Sean McKenna’s adaptation of Peter James’s novel is doing the rounds. It’s a Reader’s Digest version of the book, rattling through the plot at a rate of knots. There is no time for nuance and the dialogue is limited to only that which moves things forwards. But then you don’t come to these things for subtlety. What we do get is a cracking, fast-moving thriller that keeps us guessing and offers up a few surprises.
With Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt) and his most recent on-screen Mrs (Laurie Brett) leading the cast as Tom and Kellie Brice, the play looks and sounds like a cranked-up episode of EastEnders, and indeed the acting style is not far removed from the world of soap. Woodyatt/Beale is exactly as you would expect, and he does a good job of alternating between sarcasm and desperation. Brett has more of a stretch, as the compulsive cleaner, reformed alcoholic Kellie. Completing the household is Luke Ward-Wilkinson as their 17 year old son, Max, who manages to come across as younger and younger as the action hots up.
The plot kicks off with Ian Beale bringing home a USB stick he found on a train. He recruits Max to help him access the content, with a view to returning it to the owner. They stumble across very dark material indeed, namely a live feed of a young woman being killed. Is it a fake? Is it special effects? Meanwhile, poor Ian is struggling to find clients for his business, and Jonas Kent (Ian Houghton) happens along and it looks like the Beale-Brices are out of the woods. But then Max receives a warning from the online killers…
If you switch your brain off and go along for the ride, this is a hugely enjoyable ride. Director Jonathan O’Boyle serves up suspense by the bucketful, and there’s a lot of fun to be had by trying to second-guess the plot (which I succeed in doing, if I may brag for a second!)
Recurring character Detective Superintendent Roy Grace (played this time by Harry Long) indulges in a lot of banter with his subordinates, Leon Stewart and Gemma Stroyan, adding humour to the mix as well as police-procedural jargon for authenticity. Mylo McDonald brings an air of menace as online killer Mick, who is Oirish so of course he’s called Mick.
Michael Holt’s set effectively separates the action from the on-screen and the off, while Max Pappenheim’s sound design underscores the action, although some of the ‘stings’ are a bit on the nose, veering us into the realms of melodrama.
This fast-paced roller-coaster doesn’t allow time to mull over the convenience of some of the plot points, but this isn’t True Crime, it’s crime as entertainment and as such, it fills its remit admirably. Super fun!
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.