The Shadow of Heaven

Tron, Glasgow

Mary Brennan, three stars

Apparently Milton not only set out to “justify the ways of God to men” in his epic poem, Paradise Lost: he had early intentions of the work as a piece of tragic theatre. He later decided against attempting this. If Judith Milligan and Al Seed were ever similarly daunted, they nonetheless pressed on – The Shadow of Heaven is the result of their determination.

It’s not the entire poem. Within the compass of an hour, co-directors Milligan and Seed present eleven scenes that take us from Satan’s fall from Heaven, to his new domain in Hell and his subsequent temptation of Eve - we stop short of Adam, and the couple’s expulsion from Paradise because the focus here is on Satan as a charismatic, overweening, irrevocably flawed character. Seed, shaggy-haired and bearded, bare-torso’d in a loin-cloth, looks like an unkept, wild-eyed version of the iconic Christ so beloved of artists across the ages. His chorus of attendant demons have a medieval cast to their costumes, and this is where the historic/academic roots of this project become evident. Both Milligan and Seed are interested in the traditions – and the ongoing relevance –of Bouffon, and so the elements of clowning and grotesquerie are to the fore as talismans of subversion in the face of God’s prevailing authority.

Does it work? Not always, though the delivery of Milton’s text is often impressive and Seed invests Satan with the physical and vocal nuances that speak of inner conflicts, and the arrogant defiance that will always keep him outcast in Hell. Elsewhere, this co-production between Feral Arts and Stirling’s MacRobert Arts Centre, is oddly short on impact and clarity – the stage set doesn’t shriek “abattoir” as intended,even if Guy Veale’s music has beastly bellowing sonorities. Future developments are intended, however, with a tour in 2019.