LORD OF THE FLIES
The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 3rd November, 2015
Nigel Williams’s adaptation of the William Golding classic novel is bang up-to-date with references to Miley Cyrus and selfie-sticks but adheres to the book’s themes and tensions because they are eternal in their relevance. A group of young boys find themselves on a remote tropical island, having survived a plane crash. They have to work out what to do in order to survive and to be rescued. The thin veneer of civilisation is soon stripped away and things fall apart, descending into primitivism and savagery.
Director Timothy Sheader keeps the action tightly focussed, making sharp and efficient us of freeze-frames and cross-cutting so that the space can represent more than one location at the same time and the flow is not bogged down with characters trooping on and off. It’s fast-moving despite the confines of the stage. Throughout the carcass of the airplane features in a striking set by Jon Bausor, providing different levels and interiors as the story requires.
Luke Ward-Wilkinson is Ralph, the decent one, trying to keep democratic order. Smart and athletic, Ward-Wilkinson skilfully portrays a boy on the brink of adulthood, who knows enough to have a moral code but lacks the emotional immaturity to deal with the extreme situation he is in. His oppo is Jack (a strident Freddie Watkins) who only likes democracy when it works in his favour, shouting down any dissenting view, like Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions – and I haven’t even got to the pig’s head. Jack promotes fear and division through superstition, keeping his followers together with mindless chanting and violence. Watkins makes him a thoroughly nasty piece of work, pompous and self-important, and, at the end, reminds us that Jack is still a child.
In contrast to all the plummy, private school voices, there is Anthony Roberts as Piggy, whose Northern tones appeal for order and fair play. He has victim written all over him. Imagine John Prescott stumbling into a nest of Bullingdon Club bullies. Piggy is the conscience of the group and is therefore ridiculed, tormented and ultimately silenced.
Dylan Llewellyn’s Henry brings a touch of schoolboy humour, lowering the tone with toilet references in an energetic performance – in fact, the whole company expends a great deal of energy and emotional intensity as they run around in their underpants. Keenan Munn-Francis makes a strong impression as doomed oddball Simon, and Thiago and Fellipe Pigatto give sensitive and strong performances as identical twins Sam and Eric. But it is little Perceval who almost steals every scene he’s in, played with clarity and vulnerability by David Evans.
Even if you know the story, the second act is especially gripping, thanks in no small part to Kate Waters’s fight direction and Nick Powell’s sound score. Scenes in which the boys whip themselves up into Bacchic ecstasy are especially terrifying. Beneath every school uniform beats the heart of a savage!
An exciting and thought-provoking production of Golding’s assessment of human behaviour, very well staged and realised. Top marks, boys; gold stars all around.