The extraordinary thing about this production of Lord of the Flies was that within a few minutes of the opening, and the arrival of two of the main characters on stage, I kept forgetting it wasn’t actually happening. I kept having to remind myself it was just a play. Pigs, horrible young men, bullied youths, young men desperately trying to be decent, the sullied innocence of a child – it was truly difficult not to think of the politics of today, of the Bullingdon, Tories, Labour.
Having missed it first time round at the Open Air Theatre at Regents Park two years ago the chance to see it this week could not be passed up. Many decades ago it had been an O level text for our year but in spite of knowing the book in detail, Nigel Williams’ adaptation feels entirely fresh. The play benefits from a terrifying and gripping realism. The fantastic choreography of Kate Waters’ fight-and-flight scenes compares to some of the best film action scenes and modern dance I’ve ever seen. This action plays to full effect around Jon Bausor’s powerful set of crashed airliner, jungle, beach and mountain, all in one. Somehow it has been fitted onto a relatively small stage. There is even live fire. It has translated well from Regents Park, where it must have been amazing to see. Lord of the Flies is yet more testimony to Timothy Sheader’s emerging genius as a director, as relevant today as when William Golding’s novel was first published in 1954. At Richmond it played to a packed house.
Stranded by a crashed airplane on a jungle island, with no surviving adults, from the opening chorus of treble voices singing “Alleluia”, Lord of the Flies shows the boys’ inexorable descent into savagery. Some of them are choristers, led by their prefect, the vile and demented Jack. Their black choir robes degenerate into the ragged regalia of jungle nightmares as their superficially pristine, private and state-educated minds and bodies become smeared with blood and dirt. They slough off the veneer of civilisation with shocking speed and descend into places we would rather not think or know about. Bullying, fear and superstition turn them into murderers. Ralph, elected leader, struggles constantly to maintain order but cannot in the end prevail against Jack’s self-proclaimed chiefdom. Poor Piggy hopelessly pleads for rules. Even the child, Perceval, is corrupted into the violence, delighting at the end in the savage jungle death dance, unable at the end to remember that he was a vicarage boy.
The dead pilot hanging in the trees is the “beast” which terrifies the children and becomes totemic. It is soon apparent the real beast is the one within themselves and it is in his cunning ability to use and recognise this that Jack achieves his rule.
The three key symbols of the book, the conch, Piggy’s glasses and the fire, are beautifully and evocatively deployed. Sheader makes every nuance, every look and action count, even when almost the entire cast is on stage at the same time. There is so much to look at and enjoy and this makes it strangely immersive.
There were particularly outstanding performances from Anthony Roberts as Piggy, whose earnest vulnerability was heartrendingly convincing and Luke Ward-Wilkinson, whose own natural charisma fitted well with the well-intentioned Ralph. Three boys share the part of Perceval: David Evans, Benedict Barker and Guy Abrahams. We saw Evans, who I had seen before in God Bless the Child at the Royal Court. Perceval is a challenging part for a young child and Evans has a strong and natural stage presence, evoking “oohs” and “aahs” from the audience with his teddy bear, his hiding place in the suitcase. His sweetness made it all the more chilling when he too, in all his tiny innocence, turned bad.
Keenan Munn-Francis as Simon was a tragic stand-out, utterly true in his hope, anger and brutality. Michael Ajao was a spell-binding Maurice with his fluid movement and tender but unthinking savagery. Matthew Castle was every parent’s nightmare as the psychotic Roger. Great acting though!
There were a few nods to modernity: regrets at the lack of 3G on the island, passing references to selfies and Instagram. Seen four decades beyond my O levels, Lord of the Flies was familiar of course but it also came across in a completely new way. Today, it seems a bit like a shoot-em-up video game, where the kids are the virus that corrupt the programme. Only there’s nothing virtual about this production. It’s more horrible and more human, because it feels more real.
Review by Ruth Gledhill
Lord of the Flies Overview
William Golding’s 20th century classic Lord of the Flies explodes onto the stage in a remarkable production direct from London’s award-winning Regent’s Park Theatre.
When a group of schoolboys survive a catastrophic plane crash, what starts as a desert island adventure quickly descends into a struggle for survival in a darkly sinister world of superstition and immorality.
Playing to capacity audiences during its original run, this acclaimed production is guaranteed to grip from start to finish.
Lord of the Flies – UK Tour – ATG Tickets
Adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams.
Recommended age: 11+
Richmond Theatre to 23rd January 2016
Book Tickets for Richmond Theatre London
Churchill Theatre Bromley
Tuesday 15th to Saturday 19th March 2016