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A CurtainUp London Review
Ben Power has adapted the poetry for theatre leaving in as much of the original verse as practical in a production lasting three hours. A very physical interpretation and startling lighting, costume and makeup contribute to an outstandingly dramatic theatrical event following Satan who famously would rather reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.
The play depicts Satan (Jasper Britton) after his fall to the eternal punishment of Hell. Pandemonium, a word coined by Milton to describe the chaos, in consultation with the other demons Beelzebub (Stephen Fewell), Beliol (Vinette Robinson) and Moloch (Christian Bradley), planning his revenge by spoiling God's creation of Adam (Christian Bradley) and Eve (Vinette Robinson) in the Garden of Eden. These tortured souls have faces permanently tear stained, their clothes are bloodstained and tattered and torn, but even in Hell they retain some of the charisma they had as angels.
The first act is a whirlwind tour through Hell and shows Satan's journey to Earth which takes nine days. The second act sees Adam and Eve and the seduction that Satan has planned to prompt Man's first disobedience after he has penetrated the angelic guard. The figure of God's son (Charles Aitken), who represents redemption " on me let Thy anger fall", is present from the beginning of the play, a shadowy figure in a modern hooded jacket who shows his crucifixion wounds in the final scene.
There are shocking moments as when Sin (Caroline Faber) gives birth to Death (Stephen Fewell) from under her tattered crinoline and then is raped from behind by the monster she has given birth to. Sin and Death are the two monsters Satan lets loose on Earth. There are startling scenes like one in which Satan is flung into the ocean and they appear to swim suspended on ropes.
In the Garden there are no plants or trees just bright green lighting, Paradise is all in the mind. It is the choreography in this production which grabs our attention, acrobatic and arrestingly brilliant.
I found Jasper Britton's Satan glittery and hypnotic. Milton describes the serpent as the subtlest beast of all the field. He is at once depraved and magnetic. As the snake he plays with his snakeskin jacket and eventually casts it off, leaving it hanging over a chair like a sloughed skin. The Adam and Eve scenes in Eden leave less room for physical expression than those in Hell. In a distinctly modern take, Adam and Eve dress in modern clothes from suitcases, rather than donning fig leaves but still this creates a powerful image to express their loss of innocence.
This is an exciting and physically innovative production. It augurs very well for Rupert Goold's tenure at Oxford Stage.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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