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Lazarus Theatre Company – Lord of the Flies – Review

Alice Hutchinson as Ralph in Lord of the Flies. Photo by Adam Trigg.
Alice Hutchinson as Ralph in Lord of the Flies. Photo by Adam Trigg.

Some books have a real pedigree to them. For example, one well-known book was awarded a place on both lists of Modern Library 100 Best Novels, reaching number 41 on the editor’s list, and 25 on the reader’s list. It also made number 70 on the BBC’s survey The Big Read. In 2005, it was chosen by TIME magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005. The book is Lord of the Flies and the Lazarus Theatre Company are presenting the theatrical version of the story as the second in their current season at the Greenwich Theatre.

The story starts with a plane crashing on an isolated island in a remote region of the Pacific Ocean. The survivors of the crash are all school children being evacuated from the UK. The children are scattered around the island until they hear the sound of a conch shell, which acts as a rallying cry calling them to come to the blower. This is a boy called Ralph (Alice Hutchinson) who stands with an unkempt bespectacled boy called Piggy (Tommy Carmichael). The two of them are soon joined by other survivors, most notably the members of a school choir, led by their prefect Jack Merridew (Matt Penson) a tall, superior youth who instantly finds himself at loggerheads with Ralph as to what they should do to survive, and more importantly who should lead the group. Whilst initially accepting the majority view that Ralph becomes the leader, Jack makes his distaste for the election plain and accepts the leadership reluctantly. However, it’s not long before Jack causing friction once more as he wants to go off hunting food, while Ralph, supported by Piggy, wants to sort out rules for living, shelter, starting a fire to signal to passing ships, etc. As relationships deteriorate, things start to break down and Jack ends up taking a group of ‘hunters’ with him, leaving Ralph, Piggy and the mystical Simon (Benjamin Victor) on the beach and the twins Sam (Larissa Teale) and Eric (David Angland) to look after the fire on the hill.

This has been a really difficult review to write. The problem is that, in my honest opinion, Lord of the Flies is one of the most overrated books I’ve ever read. There is so much wrong with William Golding’s writing its very difficult to know where to start. I fully understand why it is often a set book at school, as it must generate a lot of discussion. But I personally find it to be a boring tome full of unlikeable characters, that is very much of its age and has massive plot holes running throughout its pages.

Matt Penson as Jack in Lord of the Flies. Photo by Adam Trigg.
Matt Penson as Jack in Lord of the Flies. Photo by Adam Trigg.

Having said that, Nigel Williams has adapted it well for the stage and the production itself is first-rate. Director Ricky Dukes has a lot of space available for the action and uses it well. The stage is pretty much empty apart from very schoolhouse looking chairs used to show the hill, but the use of very impressive lighting, courtesy of Designer Ben Jacobs, and lots of smoke – possibly too much at some points – really add to the atmosphere. One of the potential problems with a show like Lord of the Flies is having a group of adults playing children. However, this production doesn’t have that issue and all of the actors slot into their roles well. This is particularly true of Tommy Carmichael and Matt Penson as Piggy and Jack respectively. Piggy is a shambolic creature – in ill-fitting clothes (nice work by Rebecca Carpenter) that emphasise how totally out of place he is in this group of mainly middle-class children. But, he is tenacious and loyal and Carmichael brings these two redeeming characteristics out in the performance extremely well. By contrast, Penson, as Jack, is tall, handsome and born to rule – a job for which he is totally unsuited. He sneers at those he believes are beneath him – especially Piggy – and agrees there should be rules, provided he sets them and everyone follows without question and if they don’t, he can throw a tantrum like the best of them. Penson brings every aspect of this highly dislikable person to the surface, It is helped that he has very striking eyes and after Jack is bloodied, his eyes become the most dominant part of his face and give him a really manic appearance.

So, a really great production of a terrible story would be my way of summing up this version of Lord of the Flies. There is so much right with the production that it does make the story palatable and if that isn’t the mark of an excellent theatre company I’m not sure what is.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

What are we? Humans? Animals? Or savages?
William Golding’s explosive 20th-century classic hits the stage in an all-new ensemble production. Eleven children, one island… an incredible adventure turns into a fight for survival. With explosive choreography set to a brand-new pulsating soundtrack Golding’s Lord of the Flies literally bursts from the stage in this radical new 50/50 gender cast production.

Lazarus is an award-winning theatre company, re-imagining and revitalising classic work in visual, visceral and vibrant productions. 2018 saw the company become resident at the Greenwich Theatre, 2019 sees the company return for a second year-long residency.

Social Media:
Twitter: @Lazarustheatre Facebook: LazarusTheatreCompany
https://www.lazarustheatre.com/

Listings
Lord of the Flies
Dates 20th – 30th March 2019
https://www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk/

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