Ed Fringe 2014 | 'Paradise Lost' – Paul Van Dyke
Paul Van Dyke's Canadian production utilises puppets, projected animation and a rock 'n' roll soundscape to portray his adaptation of Milton's 'Paradise Lost'. Within the show, one man plays all of the main characters: Satan, God, Adam and Eve, all distinctly voiced. Although innovative in concept, at times the computer animation projected onto the background and wings seems a little dated. The theory, however, is quite effective and the projections do clearly delineate the different locations in which 'Paradise Lost' takes place.
The main issue with this production, and one that frequently crops up in one-man puppetry shows, is the lack of consistent animation within the puppet characters. Breath is the basis on which puppetry is built and Paul Van Dyke's puppetry, although skilful in places, relies far too much on operating one puppet while the other hangs inanimate from a stand (it is a recognised convention, and one that is often beautifully used, that when a puppeteer lets go of a puppet and allows it to fall still, the puppet dies). Although the puppets are beautiful and their interaction with the narrator is good one-on-one – and delightfully sinister in places – it is impossible to acknowledge them as consistently living brings.
Viewers unfamiliar with the text and plot of 'Paradise Lost' may find the initial scenes of this production a little alienating. Although the narrator's vocal work is varied and engaging, the beginning plays out virtually as a radio play – one man speaking into a microphone with little to visually engage. One element that deserves special mention, however, is inventive use of a special effects microphone. Handled in a less intense and focused manner, the use of pitch and tone alterations along with occasional echo effects could have been considered gimmicky, but it is clear from the standard and quality of the different voices produced that this decision was carefully made and rehearsed. Van Dyke's non-miked performances, especially as the softly-spoken Eve, are particularly interesting in an area that could have easily lapsed into a high-camp falsetto.
The rock 'n' roll soundtrack doesn't entirely fit the production. There are times where the guitars grate and the use of the Stones' 'Sympathy for the Devil' to conclude isn't entirely tonally appropriate, especially as the audiences' sympathies, in this production at least, are pretty firmly in the corner of Adam and Eve. For all its flaws, though, this is an interesting take on Milton's text and one that uses several innovative devices.
Paul Van Dyke