Piggy: do you recognise the name? He is one of the main characters in William Golding’s widely-known allegorical novel Lord of the Flies, published in 1954. Beginning shows this week at Greenwich Theatre is Lazarus Theatre’s adapted production of Nigel Williams’ interpretation of the novel: a thrilling and atmospheric production. I went to the preview night on Wednesday and was thoroughly blown away.
Who studied William Golding’s Lord of the Flies at primary school? I did and I still think about it; my ripped up and dog-eared copy still hangs on my parent’s bookshelf. It’s a battered piece of great writing just like my copy of Alice in Wonderland. It’s the type of book I would pick up – whenever I felt like – throughout my adolescence. Books like that can’t be read without leaving a mark on you. Lord of the Flies is a story about a group of schoolboys left deserted on an uninhabited island. They end up doing as they please – with no supervision – committing murder and failing to create their own social hierarchy. It seemed like the tune of chaos that the author wanted. But, realistically, would this actually happen?
We have some of the worst examples of communal group behaviour, in a group of people with limited resources, revealed and shown in popular culture; from Channel 4’s original reality TV show, Big Brother and ITV’s I’m a celebrity get me out of here, to name a few. It’s a thought-provoking topic that examines human nature and investigates what we are truly capable of doing, and committing, when left stranded to survive in desperate circumstances. The book has been adapted for film; once in 1963 and again in 1990. Now there’s a third film – currently in production – with an all-female cast. Leading dance choreographer Matthew Bourne has also had a go at transferring Golding’s tale in-land: in an abandoned theatre.
At the Greenwich theatre – where Lazarus theatre is stationed for a year-long residency – the production’s director Ricky Dukes has taken on the challenge of refreshing the story’s text by adding female actors to the narrative. Lazarus Theatre puts the question to us: would the chaos and savagery happen in a mixed group of boys and girls?
The actual production that re-enacts Golding’s play down to a tee is massively impressive. The fearless silhouettes and acting prowess of Lazarus Theatre’s young artists makes the show powerfully engaging. The show combines dark shadows and shapes with dance choreography of a tribal nature, evoking the beast that lurks beneath the children’s innocence. It all seems safe until it’s all too late.
From the get-go the ritual dance exhibits gestures of cavemen, a hunting pack and even a group of apes. The conch is a motif of democracy, but no matter how many times poor asthmatic Piggy (brilliantly performed by Luke MacLeod) refers to it, Jack finds every excuse to bully and taunt him. Nick Cope’s Jack is necessarily menacing and bloodthirsty: Jack is one of the few frightening characters Golding’s disturbing tale needs.
Amber Wadey is enthusiastic and convincing as Ralph: the central character. He is torn between Piggy’s sense of doing things by the book and Jack’s inclination towards fun and lawlessness. The audience can easily put themselves in Ralph’s troubled position as portrayed by Wadey. And Benjamin Victor gives a superb performance as tender Simon; he brought a touch of sensitivity and purity to the production.
As the show evolves the setting becomes hostile with feet stamping, animal calling and ritual chanting. I felt the heartbeat of the invisible beast in the jungle: I began to get scared too. Seemingly smaller parts were not small. Michael Holden, Nell Hardy, Calvin Crawley, Abbi Douetil, James Russell-Morley, Georgina Barley and Robyn Holaway were pertinent to this ensemble work: they enhanced the prevailing darkness in the play. Individually their performances were engaging and stage-worthy.
The ending had notions of the Hunger Games movies. But I won’t spoil it for you. The ending is devastating as you would expect. You just won’t expect your mind to still be ticking along for minutes, or hours, after seeing the pandemonium up close and so intimately on stage.
However there is a small part of the production that falls short. Golding assumed Lord of the Flies would have a different conclusion if it had girls in the story; he thought it would not have been a story about violence or social order, but a story about sex.
Speaking with first-hand experience of growing up in an all-girl Catholic school I can give you countless examples of unruly, worth-a-suspension, behaviour. Yet I felt that this theme, of a mixed group being stuck on a island, wasn’t fully explored in Lazarus Theatre’s production because the female actors performing, such as Wadey, Hardy, Holaway, Douetil, and Barley, were restricted to their boyish lines. After all they were originally written for male actors. They were prevented from showing through their own feminity with these clearly defined characters; they were almost androgynous (and this is where it gets deep).
Although these male parts are performed by females, which may seem like a highlight of the show, it actually adds no extra layer of intrigue unless you change, ever so slightly, the characters’ lines and allow them the opportunity to be dynamic as females. Why not permit them the right to celebrate their gender and sexuality on stage? I’m not trying to generalise gender here (a girl should say this or a boy should do that), but we must face the hard truth that Golding wrote the book for a group of schoolboys with the assumption that it would be about sex if there were schoolgirls involved. Adding female actors to a play, that was purposely written for boys and done in a way that accepts the sex story assumption, requires a proper adaptation. Therefore, respectively, the play was not realistic or convincing on this point.
None the less, Lazarus Theatre production has proven that Lord of the Flies is a classic text that still sizzles with relevance and timelessness. It shall resonate with us as long as humans exists. Enduring fans of the book will not be disappointed.
Lord of the Flies is showing at Greenwich theatre until March 24.
Click here to purchase tickets now: http://www.lazarustheatrecompany.com/lord-of-the-flies
(I was given a preview ticket.)
Features image includes Benjamin Victor acting the role of Simon (photographer Adam Trigg)