BWW Review: The Stratford Festival's PARADISE LOST Will Be The Apple of your Eye
There is a buzz about the Stratford Festival's production of PARADISE LOST that is so intriguing that a ticket is about as tempting as forbidden fruit. Tickets for the oft-sold out production are also a little easier to come by at the moment, as it has been extended by popular demand to October 27th. Get your tickets while you can for this mesmerizing and thought-provoking show!
The play, based on John Milton's epic poem tells a classic story, but this adaptation by Erin Shields is new. It feels fresh and current and as important as ever. It explores the challenges that exist with the story of Adam and Eve as we know it-specifically, the implied inferiority of Eve. She is every bit Adam's equal in this adaptation, and she takes a moment to reflect on how she has seemingly drawn the short straw when it comes to God the Father's punishment for her and her husband. Director Jackie Maxwell brings this new vision of the story to life, and does so with the aid of a fantastic group of performers who enthusiastically explore the pain, humour, curiosity, and devastation that comes with this story.
Lucy Peacock is a revelation as Satan. The twinkle she always has in her eye is still there, but it has transformed into something far more sinister. This character thinks she is right...no, she knows she is right...and she does her darndest to convince the audience that she has a point. The scariest part is that of course, she does have a point. But as the play comes closer to its conclusion, it becomes clear that although some of Satan's frustrations might be founded, her solutions just bring about more pain and suffering. It is an exhilarating ride for the audience, and each audience member is completely engaged from beginning to end.
As God The Father, Juan Chioran is great from the moment he turns up, seeming disinterested, fidget spinner in hand. Satan would have the audience believe that he does not care much for the angels or for the humans he has created, but perhaps he is just emotionally exhausted by his own omniscience. He knows how this is going to go. Fidget spinners are used more and more often by individuals with anxiety-almost as a meditation to help distract them and keep them present in the moment. Knowing everything that is going to happen and knowing that some of it will be upsetting is sure to cause anxiety, perhaps this is God the Father's way of coping. Or, it's just a fun and understated visual gag. Either way, it was a good choice. Chioran is particularly effective in his scene with Peacock at the climax of the play. As her character is a seething ball of energy, his calm is fascinating. A shout-out must also go to Sarah Dodd as Sin and Zephon. She steals every scene she is in.
Also bringing stellar performances are Amelia Sargisson and Qasim Khan as Eve and Adam. We watch the evolution of these characters from innocent to aware, and we see Satan's seduction of Eve in a different way. In many ways, the audience is on a similar journey to these two characters. We start out naïve and innocent as we take our seats thinking we know what the tone of this show will be. Excited to see how it will be done, and quickly learning that perhaps it is a comedy. By the end, we have experienced emotional whiplash, realized we have seen something far more nuanced than a simple comedy, and run the gamut of emotions that come with confronting the reality of human nature and how that has translated to the present day. The show I was at literally ended with the audience in stunned silence.
The design by Judith Bowden and lighting design by Bonnie Beecher are very effective in setting tone and location. The Studio Theatre is a great space for this play and they make clever use of it. The effects at the very beginning and the first transition from hell heaven are particularly notable.
If you are going to be in Stratford before Oct. 27th, I strongly urge you to eat this apple that is PARADISE LOST. Your world will never be the same!
PARADISE LOST continues in Repertory at the Studio Theatre until Oct. 27th.
Photo Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann