Work Place artist Ben Duke co-founded Lost Dog in 2004. The company creates works blending theatre and dance with text, live music and movement framed by stories and characters. We caught up with Ben to talk about his new piece
Are you mad? What made you want to take on such an epic book as Milton’s Paradise Lost?
It wasn’t madness more just an interest in the impossibility of it. I wanted to make a solo because I felt like I needed to put myself through the process I normally impose on others. Then I wondered what was the most ridiculous thing to try and stage as a one man show and Paradise Lost came into my mind.
Why did you decide to add ‘lies unopened beside me’ to the title, and have you read the whole poem?
I wanted it to be clear that my adaptation of the poem was not going to be literal or reverential. I didn’t want people to come expecting lengthy extracts from the poem. I wanted Paradise Lost to be in the title, as it is a re-telling of that story, but I wanted to add something that would give a clue to how I’d approached that poem. I have read the whole poem. But I was still constantly mocked by the closed book and the genius it contained lying on the studio floor as I tried to create this piece.
God made the world in seven days; how long from kernel of idea, through research, to opening night did it take to create ‘Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me)?
That is always a hard thing to measure. In September 2013 I did a 10 minute rough sketch studio sharing based on this idea. And I premiered the work at Battersea Arts Centre in May 2015. I have not been working on it solidly since 2013 but it has swum in my head since then. I have probably spent about 3 months in the studio.
In the performance there’s a lot of switching between characters, how tricky is it to keep the narrative clear and to remember who you are?
I created the piece in a kind of oral way. In that I stood up and told bits of the story to the empty studio or to Raquel when she was in the studio with me. I didn’t sit down and write the whole thing and then memorise it. So each scene became quite clear to me physically and I think that helped me to not get confused. When I first showed bits of the piece I was playing with the idea of getting lost in the narrative and I enjoy that sense of confusion, but as I get to know the piece better I think that sense of being overwhelmed by it is receding.
You are choreographing on yourself, which must make it tricky to get a perspective on how it’s going in the creation stages, how do you manage this process?
I was trying to embrace the difficulty of that process and judge whether things were worth keeping simply on how I felt about it in that moment. Sometimes I filmed things but more often it was based on a hunch or a sensation. I wanted to get away from the heady process I normally get stuck in which involves trying to make sense of movement.
There’s an awesome soundtrack for this show, why did you choose these artists/tracks and do they have personal significance for you, is there a story behind them?
Yes there is a story behind most of the tracks. Some marked very personal moments in my life and some were just ones that I have had in my head for ages. When I first read the poem aged 20 I imagined making a film of it, and in my head the film began with the Angels falling from heaven while Clair de Lune played. I honoured the younger more ambitious version of myself by playing that track while the angels fall.
You’ve been to Edinburgh Fringe Festival before with It Needs Horses & Home for Broken Turns in 2013, how does it feel to be going back this year?
Good. I like the festival a lot. It inspires me to be reminded that there are a lot of people still interested in live performance. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. But in Edinburgh during the festival it does.
Do you have any tips for artists going to the Fringe for the first time?
Don’t rent a flat on the royal mile. The enthusiasm is at first delightful, then wearing, then depressing.
How did moving from London to a commune in rural East Sussex, influence your work?
It is not really a commune. It is a community. We share land and a communal building but we have our own houses. I feel like the space I have there allows me to trust myself a bit more. There are less people to compare myself too.
What’s next for you?
I hope to tour this solo next year and I am starting work on a new group piece that will allow me to escape my own company and ask other people to do all the things I have found out I can’t do.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?