Thursday 24 July 2014

Up From Paradise @ New Wimbledon Studio Theatre

It’s remarkable that, just as The Crucible runs to rave reviews at The Old Vic, Arthur Miller’s one and only musical (with score from celebrated US composer Stanley Silverman) simultaneously receives its London debut at the New Wimbledon Studio Theatre courtesy of PK Productions.  Up From Paradise is a musical take on the story of Adam and Eve that originally played off-Broadway in 1983, but has never received the attention of Miller’s more celebrated plays.

But why is this?  Up From Paradise is very much of its time and place as an intrinsically American and satirical view of religion – something of an acquired taste.  The script is full of American colloquialisms, for instance comparing Adam and Eve to “apple pie and ice cream”, whilst the central family are presented as a not-so-perfect American family.  Adam is depicted (quite literally) as an all-American golden boy, whilst Eve develops from inquisitive and headstrong to doting mother and wife despite frequently being referred to simply as “woman”.  God, meanwhile, is a struggling painterly artist who struggles to fully accept the adoration of man (“it was so peaceful before there was man”).  Through this, Miller takes a rather biting look at religion and man’s dependency on God, perhaps a more palatable theme for a detached modern audience.

There is plenty of comedy in the piece – refreshing for such a serious subject.  Much of this stems from modernisms in the script, such as Eve’s reply of “there wasn’t much choice” after Adam compliments her beauty, but also from the direction of Patrick Kennedy.  The show is full of comic flourishes, often involving the chorus of three angels (Louie Westwood, Steve Graney, David Herzog) and a great deal of homoeroticism with their overt feelings towards both Adam and God.  It’s certainly a new take on a familiar tale.

The music too is inherently American, ranging from gospel and barbershop, to jazz, folk and baroque – each style bringing its own religious undertones.  It’s a highly experimental score with some difficult melodic lines and chromaticism that the cast here cope well with, especially with purely piano accompaniment.  Individually there are some beautiful tunes, in particular God’s solo ‘It Was So Peaceful Before There Was Man’ (sung by crooning baritone Niccolo Curradi), Eve’s punchy gospel number ‘All Love’ (Susanna Squires) and Cain’s lamenting ‘Why Can’t I See God’ (Anthony Pinnick).  The score doesn’t quite come together as a whole however, bearing resemblance to Bernstein’s Candide with its philosophical musings and sometimes inconsistent music.  It’s the sort of score that will get musical theatre experts giddy with excitement, full of depth that demands to be further studied.

What’s also notable is that these numbers all take place in the second act.  Up From Paradise is certainly a show of two halves, the introduction of the brooding and conflicted Cain (in a stunning turn from Anthony Pinnick) and his pure younger brother Abel (Perry Brookes Jr) providing much needed thematic focus.  It’s clear that Miller empathises with the troubled Cain and his lack of faith in God, the suitably provocative Alex Wingfield as Lucifer questioning “why do you go on kissing his ass?”.  The view of the piece is ultimately that belief and trust in God is a personal and moral choice, something Cain deals with passionately especially compared to the blind faith of his parents and brother. 

As a standalone piece, Up From Paradise is inconsistent yet thought-provoking with an intriguing musical score, posing questions that can long be pondered after the final curtain.  As part of Miller’s oeuvre, it is a curious work that undoubtedly deserves to be explored further.


Watch: Up From Paradise runs at the New Wimbledon Studio Theatre until 26th July.