Review: PARADISE LOST (at Stratford)

by Lynn on September 1, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Studio Theatre, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont.

Written by Erin Shields

A theatrical Adaptation of John Milton’s Paradise Lost

Directed by Jackie Maxwell

Designed by Judith Bowden

Composer, Thomas Ryder Payne

Sound by Deanna Haewon Choi

Fight director, John Stead

Movement by Valerie Moore

Heavenly (sorry) in every way.

 The Story.  Paradise Lost, is adapted by Erin Shields from John Milton’s epic 1667 poem about the expulsion of Satan/Lucifer and the followers from Heaven to a much hotter place because they challenged the will of God. They wanted to follow free will. And there are questions of the righteousness of God vs. the presumption of evil of Satan.

 The Production. Judith Bowden has designed an intriguingly simple set on two levels. God (Juan Chioran) in a tasteful grey suit looks down on his domain from the upper level. Below there is a wall of what looks like white, frilly clothes.

In Erin Shields’ bracing, whip-smart, dazzlingly written adaptation Lucifer is now a sensual, beguiling, seductive woman, played by the exquisite Lucy Peacock in black leather pants, knee-high black leather boots and a formfitting top that could be snake skin. She is shattering as she calmly, clearly describes the pain of being hurled out of Heaven to Hell and the fire that burned and melted skin and wings on the way down.

But then there is the smile: relaxed, embracing, dangerous and seductive as she tells us how we should be thanking her: “I liberated you from the banality of bliss/I released you from the beigeness of contentment.”


But then Satan decides to get even with God for the sudden eviction from Paradise. She targets Adam, played as a sweet, wide-eyed, protective Qasim Khan and Eve, played by Amelia Sargisson, with pluck, curiosity and gentle impishness.  We see the innocence of Adam and Eve who appear to be naked in their sheer body-stockings and unaware of it, who refer to each other in the third person.

God has told them not to eat the fruit (apple) from the Tree of Knowledge.  Satan thinks that is unreasonable and charms Eve into eating the apple using logic and that smile that can make you do anything she is so convincing.  And of course all hell breaks out when Eve eats the apple and convinces Adam to do it too.

They lose their innocence and become aware and ashamed of their nakedness and that is the beginning of their lives lived in guilt, worry, concern and all the neat stuff of real life. And they begin to refer to each other as “you” and “I”, accusatory pronouns to be sure.

Jackie Maxwell proves once again that she is one of our brightest, smartest directors. Her production is simple yet complex. There is a piece of business in which the snake appears out of that wall of clothing, beguiling, mesmerizing. Lucifer grabs the snake and her arm is pulled into to material right to the shoulder. It’s a struggle getting the arm out but when she does her arm is now the snake. Magic before our eyes.

Again, Lucy Peacock is a relaxed, charmingly dangerous Satan. She is more interesting in her wicked ways than the righteous God, played by the courtly Juan Chioran. The intellectual arguments about good and evil between these two equals is part of the many fascinations of this production.

Sin is played by Sarah Dodd with something like a Bronx accent and tight pants. This woman takes no prisoners.

Comment.  Erin Shields has written a bracing, brilliant, impish, witty, poetic, intellectual, very funny adaptation for our times.  Her sense of language and description will have your eyes popping.  There is intellectual rigor here. And making Satan a woman somehow raises the danger stakes.

I loved every single second of this production.  It’s theatre for adults loaded with whimsy, wit and brains.

Presented by the Stratford Festival.

Opened: Aug. 17, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 21, 2018.

Running Time: 3 hours approx.


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