When I first read William Golding’s allegorical novel, Lord of the Flies, I couldn’t help but think how suited this book would be as a stage adaptation. After seeing the production at the REP Theatre, I realised I hadn’t even begun to comprehend the possibilities this chilling text afforded.
For those of you, like me, that did not encounter Golding on the school curriculum, the story follows a group of marooned schoolboys on a tropical island after their plane is shot down during wartime. The novel is said to reflect Golding’s experiences of the atrocities of WWII. Good-natured but susceptible Ralph is elected chief and, after advice from the level-headed Piggy (a character ridiculed for his size and spectacles), the boys quickly attempt to factionalise and maintain order. However, the temptation of the island is too much for some members of the group, including ruthless Jack, and survival instincts kick in. It is a tense two hours watching things unravel into uncontrollable anarchy and savagery. This unnerving analysis of the human social condition peels away the veneer of civilisation and displays human nature at its most instinctual and most wicked.
There are some nice touches to modernise this tale and renew Golding’s timeless themes. Members of the group are constantly checking their phones for signal and one youngster offers a humorous rendition of Miley Cyrus’s ‘Wrecking Ball’. For this reason references to ‘war’ become ambiguous; what exactly is occurring outside of this island? The inclusion of such props means that, when the boys swap a selfie stick for a spear, it hammers home the message that no matter how far we think we’ve advanced, the dark side is lurking within us all.
As soon as audiences caught a glimpse of Jon Bausor’s spectacular set design, it was clear we were in for a treat. A scene of destruction, a section of broken plane fuselage dominates the right of the stage, and the downstage area is a giant mass of suitcases and debris. Overshadowed by the enormity of the set, the cast – visibly older than the ages of Golding’s characters, which range between 6 – 12 years old – become vulnerable boys. The cast makes great use of the set’s features, scrambling up the plane and setting fire to its wing. Another highlight was the use of movement in order to play with staging, such as the use of the plane carcass to interweave two separate jungle locations into one believable scene. Also, the incorporation of tribal dancing and fight scenes made for an energetic, blood-pumping performance, and created a sense of impending chaos.
Director Timothy Sheader has managed to assemble a stellar cast. Anthony Roberts as Piggy delivers a poignant speech on the mental decay of the survivors. David Evans as Percival, who was the only very young actor on stage, is adorable. The moment when he zips himself up into a suitcase drew a long round of ‘ahhs’ from the audience. In his innocence, he too loses himself in the ritualistic violence and acts as an aid to the more violent boys. Freddie Watkins character Jack was especially compelling to watch. Audiences witness a terrifying transformation from a nasty, pretentious young boy into something more troubled. His haunting eyes as the lights faded to black out were the stuff of nightmares.
Overall this is a seriously intense piece of theatre. Lord of the Flies played at the Birmingham REP until Sunday 7th November, but Regent’s Park Theatre will be touring the UK until March 2016. I strongly recommend tracking down this brilliant production, you will not regret it.