The Theatreguide.London Review
Trinity Buoy Wharf Summer 2013
Trinity Buoy Wharf is an arts venue tucked away where you least expect it, at the harbour side where the Thames meets the motorway flyovers of Canning Town.
Here, after all, is not where the Waterloo Sunset of central London lives – this part of the river is pure industry, and so it's a little startling to wander down the stone steps and find yourself in Heaven.
Ambitious fringe theatre company Fourth Monkey have chosen the chilly warehouse at Trinity Buoy to stage Milton's Paradise Lost, converting its various rooms into an ambient Heaven with the air of an east London art gallery, a dank, red, basement-feeling Hell and the earthy-smelling, moss covered Eden, respectively.
Zahra Mansouri has done a remarkable job with the set, displaying real ingenuity on a Fringe budget, and you have to respect the bravura of any company willing to take on one of the most famous epic poems ever written.
The twenty-seven strong cast are marshalled by director Ailin Conant, and there is some very inventive ensemble work here – but unfortunately there is plenty of cliché, too.
For instance, though Reuben Beau Davies works hard, it is ultimately a very one-note portrayal of Satan in both adaptation and direction, lacking the nuance that makes this character so compelling in the text.
There are also some genuinely inexplicable decisions: for instance, why does the Angel Gabriel speak in a slightly shoddy Southern American accent? Combined with her management of the troupe of singing angels who accompany her, this seems to recall Vile Bodies' Mrs. Melrose Ape. But why?
As with any site-specific show, the space presents challenges, primarily that in the first half there is a lot of action happening alternately in Hell and on Earth, and the ensemble are constantly moving the audience from one to the other, staying for only a minute or two at a time.
All of this shuffling and shifting around keeps momentum from building for an inexcusably long time, and makes it difficult for the audience to become engaged.
There are a couple of interesting and likeable performances, with Ami Sayers making a compelling and watchable Sin, while Adam Trussell garners some laughs as a Lord Flashheart-style Angel Raphael.
Unfortunately, the majority of the large cast, when given their moment to speak, struggle with the text, as if they do not understand the meanings and rhythms of the speech.
It seems likely that so much time has gone into the ensemble movement work – which is all, it is worth noting, tightly rehearsed and extremely nicely done – that work on the text has fallen by the wayside a little.
Unfortunately, when you are adapting a text as well-known and as beloved as Paradise Lost, the words on the page are actually rather important – otherwise you may just as well stage an interpretation of the Book of Genesis and have done.
In spite of best intentions and a few genuinely beautiful moments and images, this Paradise Lost has potential but ultimately feels like too ambitious an undertaking for this young company.
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Review - Paradise Lost - Trinity Buoy Wharf 2013