PARADISE LOST at the North Wall, Oxford

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Consider the one-man show. What do you expect? A stand-up comedian, entertaining the audience with something funny that happened to him on the way to the theatre? A furrowed-browed actor delivering an intense emotional monologue? An interpretive-dance adaptation of a 350-year-old epic poem, featuring an almighty battle between all the angels of Heaven and Hell, the Creation of the world, and the Fall of Adam and Eve? The last one isn’t exactly the first thing that springs to mind, so all credit to Ben Duke of Lost Dog for pulling off a truly exceptional show that somehow delivers both proper belly laughs and genuinely moving moments, whilst also presenting Milton’s ten-thousand line poem. An epic feat indeed.

It begins with a dripping ceiling, some awkward shuffling, a lost page, and a reading of the last lines of Milton’s Paradise Lost, just in case we don’t manage to get to the end in our allotted 80 minutes. It’s an endearingly inauspicious start, reminding us what a ridiculous undertaking this was in the first place. I’m still not sure if the mopping up of a puddle of water was the beginning of the show, or just the Health and Safety Manager from The North Wall making sure that Ben didn’t slip over before he even began.

Ben casts himself as God – if you’re doing a one-man show of Paradise Lost you’re hardly going to be an unambitious person. And Ben/God creates the universe because he’s (He’s?) got all of this nothingness watching him, waiting for him to act. He’s got to do something, otherwise what’s the point?

But once you’ve created something, it becomes its own thing. You have no control any more. And in this way, every parent is God. The play seamlessly weaves in moments that feel autobiographical: trying to get his child to get out of the house and on the way to school more quickly; being caught practising his dance that represents Adam, and scaring his child’s little friend; the raw emotion of having a child at all, and the simultaneous overwhelming joy and terror at having brought someone into the world, and having to release them into it. I am not a parent myself, but the power of feeling that Ben conveyed really was astonishingly moving.

Sublime, ridiculous, hilarious, and devastating. If this is what Falling feels like then count me in.   ★★★★★    Deborah Sims     20th November 2015