Writer: Nigel Williams
Director: Timothy Sheader
Reviewer: Rosella Barnes
Whether one is familiar with the savage story, or meticulously study the text in school, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies has become one of our Nation’s most treasured pieces of literature. Published in 1954, Lord of the Flies soared in popularity and, as evident by the success of Nigel Williams’ adaptation, continues to be popular today.
The trajectory of the story follows the descent of English schoolboys into barbaric, tribal savagery, eventually turning against one another with bloody consequences. Stranded on a desert island, they must fend for themselves, faced with the momentous task of taking control of their situation to get rescued and dealing with the omnipresence of the “beast” on the mountain and the beast within themselves.
Despite the first act being a little slow, the threat of the fall of the boys into the “savages”, an identity Jack (Freddie Watkins) and his, often unsure, gang come to refer to themselves as, picks up in the final scenes. Watkins’ performance is particularly strong, he is menacing and bullyish while always embodying an overall sense of fear that is easily lost in the face of hunting, annoying Piggy (Anthony Roberts), or aggravating Ralph (Luke Ward-Wilkinson). It has to be said that the characterisations are extremely strong and if you know the text well the somewhat easily overlooked character Roger (Matthew Castle), is given a more central position on the stage which is bold and pays off thanks to Timothy Sheader’s direction. The dynamic between Roger and Jack is handled maturely and with great tension that only builds to the final crescendo in the jungle.
The ambiguity of Golding’s narrative has been muffled by Nigel Williams and creates a more inclusive portrayal for younger audiences. The beauty of Golding’s story lies in this idea that we don’t know why the boys are there, why are they on that plane, why are they from different schools?
The interrelationships between the boys seem, disappointingly, obviously class-based with Roger and Piggy’s uniform sit against the sniggers of Jack and his army of singers with Ralph standing, mildly, not bothered, in the middle. These distinctions sit uncomfortably along with the cringeworthy inclusion of setting this story in the twenty-first century. The boys take “selfies” and are not able to upload their snaps because “there’s no 3G, lads”. While this could appeal to some members of the audience, and it gets some laughs, it is unnecessary and Williams had no need to play around with a story with so many more interesting themes to draw out.
Saying that, this is on the way to being a triumph. In retrospect, the obvious exclamations from Piggy and Ralph, the “us and them” leading to “well, who are we?” in Act One set up a performance that is embedded in Golding’s exploration of the nature of being human, and the notion that there are those who have the individual disposition to be truly savage.
As the tension builds, the choreography led by Fight Director Kate Waters and Co-Director Liam Steel fantastically illustrates the boys uniting in a common evil and demands the attention of the audience. Visually, the designer Jon Bausor’s crashed plane, the suitcases and belongings dispersed around the surrounding jungle landscape offer a dramatic focus like nothing else.
Despite its flaws, this is a good play. It is demanding, mesmerising at times, challenging in its themes, but also extremely accessible to a wide-ranging audience. With only a few more stops on its tour, this is a worthwhile adaptation of much-loved classic.
Being human is a vulnerable thing, the play asks us to be critical about this, about our vulnerability to subtle but powerful forces – group pressures, authority figures, the dehumanisation of others, and the survival of the fittest – who can kill and who can’t, who can keep control and keep to the rules and who can’t. Just as Golding’s questions for society’s ability to rule war and evil over our humanity, the wider notions of what makes us really human remain as poignant now in this play as they did in 1954.
Runs until13 February 2016 and on tour | Image: Johan Persson