It’s been some time now since William Golding’s “Lord Of The Flies” was on my school reading lists, and that is probably just as well for this review as that passing of time between book and this stage adaptation allows me to pretty much deal with this new work on its own merits without accidentally reviewing the book itself.

The first thing that you cannot fail to notice as you arrive into the theatre for this show is the large and very substantial set (and you really need a big stage like The Festival Theatre which can provide for this show).  We open with a broken tail end section of a broken up aircraft on a deserted beach front to the right of us and a broken wing part coming down the left side of the stage.  Spilling out all over the beach is the luggage of the aircraft’s occupants.  The images in recent years of personal effects from crashed aircraft has taken a strong hold in our media-managed minds now and designer Jon Bausor intentionally or not uses this to great effect on this wonderful set.

We soon meet the few survivors of this crash.  No adults, just  schoolchildren.  In the book they are aged 6 to 12 years of age, but I would say a few years are added on for this production.

Being left alone with no adult supervision and no rules whatsoever on a deserted tropical island is probably a dream for many (let alone school-children), and that is almost how everything starts as our group start to form friendships and elect a leader.  With the exception of a small group from a choir, none of the children here have previously known one another.  This Eden-like island quickly takes a darker side though and turns into a bit of Hell as the children soon split into two factions.

All of the actors on stage tonight are by virtue of the material young, and this production is in itself a powerful piece of theatre that gives a rare opportunity for these actors to be on their own on in a major stage production, and hopefully gives everyone here a launch-pad to far more acting roles as they grow older.

Our cast are
Maurice (Michael Ajao), Roger (Matthew Castle), Bill (Yossi Goodlink), Henry (Dylan Llewelllyn), Simon (Lee Rae), Eric (Fellipe Pigatto), Sam (Thiago Pigatto), Piggy (Anthony Roberts), Ralph (Luke Ward–Wilkinson), Jack (Freddie Watkins) Percival (Guy Abrahams - tonight) and Naval Officer (Jonathan Holby)

To start with, everything goes reasonably well with an almost democratic set up in place overseen by Ralph who has been voted chief.  Meetings are held by the sounding of a large conch shell and whoever holds it has the right to speak.   Democracy is soon challenged though by Jack who believes he should lead by virtue of strength and power alone and quickly becomes the leader with his breakaway group of followers.

Everyone on stage here is very good but the contrast between Ralph (Luke Ward-Wilkinson) and Jack (Freddie Watkins) is skilfully done here and that difference of belief and personality between them both is absolutely central to this story.  Without both handling these parts so well, this story could quickly fall down.  Also playing a difficult part very well is Anthony Roberts as Piggy.  Piggy is probably the physically weakest of the group and needs safety and rules to survive and his clinging to the democracy of the conch shell and its ability to solve all problems brings us to a shocking episode in Act Two.

It is really the early on killing of a wild pig by Jack and his acolytes that start to drive this story into darker realms as they find strength and power in killing.  The discovery of “The Beast” on the island adds further to that darkness and the passive Simon gets trapped in those events all too easily.  Simon out of all the boys is the one that I would like to have found much more about.

Freddie Watkins as Jack gets a great part to play here and does it in great style as his character slips fairly quickly not just into savagery but paranoia about the beast – which he can see in the eyes now of whoever it inhabits as it can change form.

Anyone who has ever encountered the gang mentality of school bullies in the playground will recognise Jack and his crew and how difficult it is to stand up to them as they destroy what they do not like and take what they want, while at the same time preying on the weak and easily intimidated.  This of course has far wider implications for warring factions anywhere at anytime.

Although this production has been updated a little with current references and things like 3G mobile phones (which of course do not work on the island), it is still at heart true to the original source material.  Some people may not like the updates, but to work best, this work has to be relevant to the world that many of the younger members of tonight’s audience would recognise.  Very slight changes stop this becoming a historical costume drama.  A bit of the old cold–war era of the book is given at the beginning (and later on) in references to possibly all adults being dead anywhere from some vague war that is going on.

There are so many levels to this story and you could spend a lot of time exploring them, but this review is not the place for that (and so much analysis has already been written about this work elsewhere anyhow).   All of the young actors on stage tonight did a very good job working with some very deep subject matters on what basically makes us civilised or not and how easily we can descend from man to beast.  Not for nothing is “Lord of The Flies” an old name for The Devil.

This is a powerful stage adaptation from Nigel Williams, Timothy Sheader (Director) and Liam Steel (Co-Director).  Try not to miss this one.

Review by Tom King

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