Not only does the devil have all the best tunes, John Milton has given him all the best lines as well - which is even more peculiar when you consider that the poet was a fervent puritan, closely allied to Cromwell and the Commonwealth, who narrowly escaped being indicted for treason at the Restoration.
That aspect of literary and political history informs Ben Power's stage adaptation and Rupert Goold's production. Satan has rebelled against God because he considers himself demoted in the celestial pecking order. In revenge he decides to corrupt God's favoured new creation - mankind. The action is clothed in glorious verse, but it's also truly dramatic.
Goold's production swirls between hell and earth against a stark but by no means minimalist set (by Ben Stones) where ladders, columns, chairs, a table, gates and one strategic door have their own choreography, emphasised by Adam Cork's brilliant sound effects and the lighting magic of Mark Jonathan and Lorna Heavey.
Add to this finely choreographed, indeed acrobatic, movement for the actors, which has been devised by Liam Steel and Georgina Lamb. All of which would amount to nothing more than an effective piece of physical theatre if the actors were unable to deliver the poetry with conviction as well as understanding.
There is a cast of just six, which is understandably dominated by Jasper Britton's Satan, the only character to whom is awarded a sense of ironic humour as well as frustrated immortality and ambition. Opposed by Caroline Faber's Raphael and Stephen Fewell's Gabriel, he mirror-images Charles Aitken's Son.
Milton (he was famously misogynist) almost certainly never intended Eve to be as strong a character as Vinette Robinson makes her. It is as though in her post-apple humiliation she has found the will to reverse the curse of Eve. Her Adam is Christian Bradley, who one feels will be less capable of turning their expulsion from Eden into heaven (admittedly with flaws) on earth.
In more sense than the literal one, therefore, a mystery play for the sceptical 21st century. It's theatre of mystical and poetic conviction.
- Anne Morley-Priestman (reviewed at Watford Palace Theatre)