23 - Saturday 24 March 2007
Milton Stephen Tucker
Daughter Lisa Burke
God the Father / Mulciber John Willmer
God the Son Thomas Gatley
Satan Margaret Pritchard
Sin / Mammon Judy Burgess
Death / Uzziel Graham Fitzgerald
Beelzebub / Uriel Moray Jones
Belial / Gabriel Stephen Clarke
Moloch / Raphael Barbara Salmon
Herald / Trumpet Stephen Berryman
Adam Mark Harrop
Eve Jane Mayfield
Narrator / Michael Simon Malpas
Designer / Costumes Margaret Willmer
Stage Manager Nicki Siddall
Musical Consultant Leo Duarte
Sound Rebecca Siddall
I wonder, too, what the stones of St John's would say, if they could speak, about the role played in the drama by the church itself. It is by turns Heaven and Hell, the great palace of Satan constructed on the lines of the temples of the classical world and, finally, the Garden of Eden, the paradise lost by Adam and Eve which waits to be regained by Christ's Death and Resurrection on Easter morning. At the beginning of the poem - and our play - Milton declares his aim 'to justify the ways of God to men', and we have enlisted the help of the building to portray what Milton has described. We are told of the enthronement in Heaven of God the Son by His Father, of the jealous rebellion against Him by Satan , of Satan's rebellion and defeat by the forces of the Son; and of Satan's fall into Hell and the creation of a new world - ours - to replace the loss of the rebels from God's love; we witness the struggle of the rebels, led by Satan and Beelzebub, to rise from their 'burning lake' and the hatching of Satan's plans for revenge ( in a parody of the earthly parliamentary debates with which Milton, as Cromwell's Latin Secretary, would have been so familiar!); we meet the figures of Sin and Death who guard the gates of Hell and whom Satan wins over to his cause; and we witness how Satan loses his fight with the Archangel Gabriel, whose guards have detected Satan at Eve's ear as she sleeps. Finally, of course, Satan picks on a weaker adversary and wins - but he has reckoned without the power of God the Father, who plays what can only be called a practical joke on him at the moment of his greatest triumph. His ultimate defeat awaits him in the context of eternity, as the unconditional love of the Son for Man promises a future release from the deadly grasp of Satan and the grotesque shapes of Sin and Death.
Milton's own literary debts are also apparent, even in the short space of our drama. His familiarity with and love for both Shakespeare and the classical authors pervade his writing and there are strong echoes of both. As we listen to Satan's jealousy, we hear Iago in the bitterness of his words and the anguish of his hopeless position; Adam and Eve are as lyrical as Romeo and Juliet in their response to the beauty of the natural world which enhances their love; and Prospero surely informs the figure of Milton himself! The influence on Milton of Homer and Virgil is apparent in everything: in his presentation of the conflict between God the Son and Satan as if it were between two great figures of antiquity where one is designed by fate to lose all; in his virtuoso use of Latinate linguistic structures and vocabulary; and above all, in the constant, impressive march of his dignified and powerful poetry. Yet his aim was to outgun both Homer and Virgil, for his protagonists are the two forces of goodness and evil themselves, his battlefield infinity and his timescale eternity.
Milton was a Puritan, a man of intense beliefs and extraordinary learning, who knew both the Old and the New Testament by heart and spoke Latin as fluently as he spoke English. We have tried at all times to be faithful to his passionate and visionary spirit, we have loved working with his beautiful language and - as a footnote to the production- we have used in what we hope is an interesting way Milton's observation that 'spirits when they please can either sex assume.' We hope you enjoy the fruits of our labours
Following the programme note, I too would like to offer this review to John Hester, hoping that reports of the Players' splendid achievement will help to speed his recovery.
For splendid indeed it was. There must be others like myself for whom Paradise Lost has loomed, an Everest-high peak, unattained except for a mass of familiar quotations and the titles of other books, such as A Long Day's Dying and Precious Bane. For these Ann Duarte with the Hampstead Players have given us a wonderfully clear and lucid interpretation, full - there can be no doubt - of the basic grandeur and tragedy of the original. From the start the mood is set, with Stephen Tucker's blind and inspired Milton dictating to his daughter the familiar words: 'Of man's first disobedience and the fruit/Of that forbidden tree....' From there we have the war in heaven, the temptation of Eve, and the final banishment of 'our lingering parents' from the Garden of Eden.
All this is given us through a production full of shafts of true imagination. First we have Satan - a woman shimmering in gold cloak and informed with a passion which it seems is set to overcome. A female Satan? Well.... 'For Spirits when they please/Can either sex assume' and Margaret Pritchard assumes it splendidly. She has the power of authority, a kingship which poses the dramatic opposition to the God of heaven - her credo 'Evil, be thou my good.' Her strength as enemy is made clear: 'Better to reign in Hell than serve in heaven.' Masked and cloaked, her dark angels fall dramatically from their 'happy seat'. Margaret Willmer must take great credit for costumes which interpret and inspire: dark blue cloaks for evil, light blue for the angels of heaven. And the interpretation of the Tree of Knowledge is immensely effective: three young men stand motionless, their hands held out, each holding the deadly fruit. Their silent offering underlines Eve's time of temptation, the tension between Yes and No. So much so that we can wish that she would say No - but, as we know to our cost - she gave in. With the appearance of the two pivotal characters, Adam and Eve, we are again reminded of the skill in costume. Their pale shining dress contrasts with the darkness or grandeur elsewhere, their innocence and naivety are immediately before us. Mark Harrop and Jane Mayfield move and speak with grace and truth, their gentle language perfectly at odds with the darker passions. Darkness begins to emerge with Eve's dream, when she foresees the tasting of the forbidden fruit.
It was appropriate that God the Father should speak to us unseen: John Willmer's powerful voice comes from the dark as he orders the angel Raphael to warn the two at the centre of the drama to beware of Satan. I found Barbara Salmon's Raphael an inspiring interpretation - most especially when she describes the Creation in the superb language - 'fish that - glide under the green wave ... or show to the sun their waved coats dropt with gold.' All this interspersed with the narrators counting the six days and ending with the creation of Man. Raphael gives his warning 'be strong, live happy, but keep his great command!'
It is difficult to select individual angels, dark and light, especially when it was clear how much they were all involved with the drama, but I liked Judy Burgess' portrayal of Sin, gleaming with a dark humour, a quality not noticeable [naturally enough] in the story as a whole. Stephen Clarke is valiant as Gabriel in his opposition to Satan's entry into Eden. And Thomas Gatley spoke with beautiful authority as God the Son.
The narrators - familiar and skilled voices all - gave us the splendid words of the drama with power and understanding. I was perhaps sorry that the structure of our church didn't allow them to stand nearer to us and be visible. But nothing could halt the drive of the drama, with the grandeur of the words. This was a unique occasion for the Hampstead Players - in every aspect - sound, music, lighting as well as devoted playing by the cast. Ann Duarte has given us a memorable interpretation of one of the great monuments of our literary heritage. We go away with the cadences of the grand words in our heads, and the echoes of the story of the frailty of man - and his redemption - vividly before us. Heartfelt congratulations are due to all concerned.
review appeared in the Hampstead Parish Church Magazine.