While Rabbit in a Hat Productions‘ Paradise Lost serves as an adaptation of John Milton’s epic poem about the Fall of Man, this is unmistakably a stage show rather than a poetry reading. What I mean by that is yes, the words are all Milton’s (and they are beautiful words), but the production also uses projections, puppetry, and poetry to enhance and interpret them for the stage, bringing a unique and powerful version of the story to the Toronto Fringe Festival.
When you walk into the theatre, you see giant sheets descending from the sky, and a black table set at the front of the stage. As the lights dim, beautiful projections by Jeremy Eliosoff fill the white spaces with images of fire, to be followed shortly by the greenery of Eden. These dynamic effects are paired with an eclectic soundtrack that mixes contemporary and classical sounds to great effect. The images move and shift seamlessly throughout the story to set various scenes.
Much of the show’s narrative thrust, aside from these projections, is built around the simple but powerful visual metaphor of Lucifer (Paul Van Dyck) controlling two puppet versions of Adam and Eve. Van Dyck’s puppetry here is subtle but full of rich characterization, and he has a keen eye for poses. In effect, all the humans are small and vulnerable on stage, naked against the towering and fully clothed Lucifer (at least, for the majority of the play). The show is thus capable of being quietly beautiful and staggeringly visual at different intervals.
All of this rests on Van Dyck’s shoulders, as the sole performer. Thankfully, Van Dyck is a dynamic presence on the stage, transforming his voice to suit multiple characters (sometimes with the help of technology, but often not) as he glides beautifully through the dense lyric poetry of Milton’s original text. As Lucifer, he is charismatic and sinister, though never repulsive; as Adam, he is mild and despairing; still yet, as Eve, he is earnest and eager for knowledge.
It’s a beautiful show in every sense of the word: in the poetry being gorgeously orated, in the elegant puppetry, in the colourful visual effects and the clever work that Van Dyck manages to do in pulling it all together as fluidly and movingly as he does.
If you’ve never read Paradise Lost, I’m going to go out on a limb and say you have nothing to worry about here. This is obviously a condensed version of the poem, but it tells the familiar story of the Fall of Man, and the humanity of Van Dyck’s puppetry and the powerful iconography of the projections do more than enough to set up the story.
This is just one of those shows that, on preview night, was firing on all cylinders. Strong performances and dynamic staging make this one not to be missed–and, as always, you can never go wrong for having more seventeenth century poetry in your life.
- Paradise Lost plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace. (16 Ryerson Ave.)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (707 Dundas St. W.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warning: Sexual content.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible. Accessible seating is in the very front row.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Friday July 6th, 8:00 pm
- Saturday July 7th, 4:00 pm
- Monday July 9th, 3:15 pm
- Wednesday July 11th, 5:45 pm
- Thursday July 12th, 12:00 pm
- Saturday July 14th, 11:00 pm
- Sunday July 15th, 3:15 pm
Photo by Tristan Brand of Paul Van Dyck and puppets.