Traversing through Heaven and Hell: ‘Paradise Lost’

Two gold wings. Between them is a gold apple.

“The biggest mistake any of us could make would be to underestimate Satan.” –Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost is an interesting and unique retelling of the story of Adam and Eve, and the first battle between good and evil. By Playwright Erin Shields and directed by Evalyn Parry, the play is loosely based on John Milton’s poem of the same name.

Paradise Lost flips everything we were taught about the story of creation and the battle of good and evil on its head by making Satan (Sophie Buchkowsky) the main character and God (Jake Henderson) the antagonist. Satan depicts the Almighty as a dictator-like character who has control over everyone while she is freeing humans from his clutches. We follow Satan as she travels through Hell, Heaven, then Earth in search of the Almighty’s new creation, Adam (Ricky Yankowich) and Eve (Eleanor Guy). Throughout this journey, we hear Satan’s perspective of how she was trying to liberate humans from “not having the knowledge of good and evil”, since before Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge they were blissfully unaware. The play also acts as a commentary on our current way of life, as Satan brings up real-world issues such as misogyny and violence against women.

The play runs as a comedic drama. It looks at the kingdom of heaven in a satirical way with angels such as Raphael (Eshan Kumar) being used as comic relief and the archangels performing a witty play about the battle of good and evil. Some of this is very funny but I feel like a few of these moments are for humour’s sake and not for the betterment of the story. I could look past this if the play was not around 150 minutes but because of this runtime, the show drags a little bit and it’s the comedy that makes it longer than needed.

All of the actors pull their weight and do a fantastic job throughout. Buchkowsky is a standout as Satan. She plays her, not as a big powerful character, but as a more vengeful, cunning one, and does so wonderfully. Yankowich and Guy are fantastic as Adam and Eve respectively. They impressively portray their character’s blissful, worry-free nature in a humorous and believable manner. After eating from the Tree of Knowledge, their transition to humans with knowledge of good and evil is beautiful as they start to fight and question the world they find themselves in.

Direction by Parry is very well done. She interestingly utilizes the stage as the sets never change drastically yet they easily depict Hell, Heaven, and Earth. They do so mainly by using lighting (design by Sara Statling) and sound (design by Jonas Jacobson) in a smart fashion. The lighting transitions between hues to differentiate the three settings and the sound also transitions in this manner. For example, if in Hell, there is a dark red light cast upon the stage with sounds of chains hitting each other to create an eerie and haunting atmosphere. I also enjoyed how they utilize unique techniques with the stage at the Isabel Bader Centre. There is a big cloth, sort of like white drapes, that goes from the ceiling to the floor. It is hooked to a contraption on the roof in the centre of the stage and is able to move in a circular way while also being able to expand so this white drape can cover the whole backstage. An aspect I found very intriguing is how it also creates shadows of actors when the lighting is positioned correctly. 

Paradise Lost is a unique feminist retelling of the story of Adam and Eve with Satan playing the lead character. It is fantastically acted by students of Queen’s University and directed in a thoughtful manner. 

‘Paradise Lost’ plays at the Isabel Bader Centre until March 17th, 2024. More information can be found here

Read more about Evalyn Parry and her thoughts on directing ‘Paradise Lost’ here.