Ben Duke: God is handing out flyers just like the rest of us
ben duke

Ben Duke, who performs Paradise Lost (lies unopened besides me) at Summerhall, writes about flyering, and deciphering Edinburgh during the festival

I am at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. And I am playing God. Not as in deciding whether innocent people should live or die, or involving myself in stem cell research, but as in I am in a show in which I play the character of God.

I think in some religions this kind of thing is frowned upon. But I was brought up loosely in the Church of England and I don’t remember any specific rules banning impersonations of God; in fact I don’t remember that much mention of God at all.

My interest in that character came from literature rather than church and in particular from Milton’s Paradise Lost, which the show is based on. Milton’s God is, in my opinion, a bit messed up and once I started to understand this I warmed towards him. I empathised. Particularly with his parenting skills, which, if my reading of Paradise Lost is accurate, go a bit like this:

God and child are standing on the edge of a park. For the sake of argument let’s call that park the Meadows.

Child hands God her shoes and runs barefoot towards the playground.

Child stops suddenly and sits down on the ground holding her foot, she is crying.

God walks over to her and looks at the thorn in her foot.

God says, ‘I told you that would happen if you took your shoes off’.

Child says ‘no you didn’t, you just took my shoes – which was a tacit approval of my choice to run barefoot’ (the last bit of that she just said with her eyes).

‘Yes but in the moment I took your shoes I knew that it was going to end this way I just didn’t say anything out loud because I didn’t want to interfere with your free will, which I very generously gave you by the way.’

Child says ‘You’re annoying’. And walks away from God out of the park and towards the road.

God sits down while his wife goes to retrieve the child because she is far less likely to cock it up than he is.

God wonders if inviting his family to the Edinburgh Fringe was such a good idea. They have only been here a day and already God can feel his self-esteem, inflated by the applause at his creation, slowly collapsing.

God looks towards his retreating family and then in the direction of the venue where he is supposed to be performing and he considers his life. He considers which is more important, life or art? Outside the Edinburgh bubble it has to be life. But here, for this one month, God is going to believe in his creation, dispel the idea that this is self-indulgent, and dive headlong into the conviction that all of this art really matters.

So he walks towards the venue. Hoping he can sell enough tickets to buy expensive presents for the rest of his family…

I am confusing life and art. The Fringe is good for that. My point was just that I believed in Milton’s characters. They lived for me. And that is why I made a show about Paradise Lost and so brought God to the Fringe where he has to hand out flyers amongst the multitude of other characters that people bring to this confusing and inspiring festival.

Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me) at Summerhall, until 30 Aug, 2.40pm / listings / tickets

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