Home » London Theatre Reviews » PARADISE LOST (lies unopened beside me) at The Place | Review

PARADISE LOST (lies unopened beside me) at The Place | Review

I can truly say I’ve never before seen anything quite like Ben Duke’s PARADISE LOST (lies unopened beside me). When I think of a ‘triple threat’ the likes of Chita Rivera or Neil Patrick Harris singing/dancing/acting their way through a show come to mind. When I think about writer/performers, I perhaps recall Phoebe Waller-Bridge or Tracy Letts. But Ben Duke’s comic monologue writing and delivery, choreography and dance are a new sort of multi-threat: as if during one of his drollest and best-observed (desk-bound) monologues, Spalding Gray moved with both the comic plasticity of Lee Evans and the startling grace of Pina Bausch underpinned with occasional bouts of Robert Wilson’s stagecraft.

Ben Duke Lost Dog in 'Paradise Lost...' photo by Danilo Moroni.
Ben Duke Lost Dog in ‘Paradise Lost…’ photo by Danilo Moroni.

Ben Duke also comes across as a brilliant teacher tasked with unpacking John Milton’s 17th-century blank-verse epic poem. Duke’s schtick is self-effacing and present. He is in tune with the audience, immediately creating jeopardy and a sense of occasion in an intimate set-up. We know straight away that we shall be entertained, and that this performance will be fun. For hardcore fans of dance or dramatic imagery, be patient; Duke takes us on a journey that – for all its whimsy and democratisation of Milton’s 79,000-word masterpiece – is theatrical and engrossing. The goose-bumps will come before the show is over but enjoy the giggles first.

Somehow, without quite realising it, we are drawn into a world that is less explained and more imagistic. Simple but powerful lighting creates shadows that startle in their scale. The movement and tableau are hypnotic and intoxicating. Thanks to the variety of moods and tones, we as the audience are rocked into a rhythm that envelopes our senses and engrosses our thoughts.

Due to its uniqueness, charm and resonance, this production is difficult to describe without being overly literal (and risking spoilers) or being overly lofty (risking portraying it as more esoteric than it is). Suffice it to say that I recommend PARADISE LOST (lies unopened beside me) wholeheartedly, especially if you are not necessarily a confident connoisseur of dance. The show requires no pre-requisites but does not patronise the well-initiated either. The only cavil I felt (which might be entirely imagined) is that some of Duke’s patter suggests there was more movement in 2015 and this production has pared-back choreography compared to the debut version. Whether this is a bit of self-deprecating post-pandemic schtick, I don’t know – but thanks to the dance I saw, I would have loved to have seen even more of it for longer.

The show is both streamed and performed live in limited venues on tour in June. I certainly recommend attending a live show if you can but, in any event, try to check it out via whatever platform you can.

4 stars

Review by Mary Beer

Paradise Lost…combines theatre, comedy and movement on a journey through the story of the creation of everything condensed into 80 minutes, beginning with Lucifer’s rebellion and ending with Adam and Eve’s expulsion from The Garden of Eden.

5th June 2021
London, The Place at 7.30pm – LIVE SHOW

June 23rd, 24th Newbury Corn Exchange at 7.45pm
Tickets: £21

June 26th Brighton Concert Hall at 8pm
Tickets: £15

July 8th, 9th Ustinov Studio @ Theatre Royal Bath at 8pm
Tickets: £18.50


  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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