Tag Archives: Nick Powell

School’s Out

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.

Freddie Watkins as Jack (Photo: Johan Persson)

Freddie Watkins as Jack (Photo: Johan Persson)

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Well Executed

BRING UP THE BODIES

The Swan, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 29th January, 2014

 

The second half of this double bill with Wolf Hall, picks up the action a few years later, and it’s as if I haven’t left the theatre from the previous night; it is very much a continuation of mood, style and story.  But what transpires in this instalment is that events become more serious, the implications and effects wider-reaching.  Thomas Cromwell (Ben Miles) is now a prime mover and shaker, tasked by King Henry to annul the marriage to Anne Boleyn.  Cromwell instigates an investigation into Boleyn’s household and the company she keeps, and there is a sense of mounting tension as each interview brings us closer to the outcome we know must transpire and matters come to a head.  Mike Poulton’s adaptation somehow keeps the history fresh.  We don’t see Boleyn’s execution, but the executioner rehearsing, explaining what his job entails, is enough for us to stage the scene in our imaginations.  This is all the more chilling.

Miles is astonishingly good and is supported by an excellent ensemble of major and minor players.  Nathaniel Parker shows us more colours of the ageing king, even eliciting our sympathy, bringing a wealth of humanity to the despotic monster.  Lydia Leonard’s Anne Boleyn is a strident figure – I would have liked to see a little more vulnerability at times.  Nicholas Shaw impresses as Harry Percy, embittered and facing death.  Daniel Fraser’s Gregory has grown up – as Cromwell’s son he is a chink in his father’s armour, as Cromwell pursues his relentless Machiavellian plot to avenge the downfall and demise of Cardinal Wolsey (who appears as a ghost a few times, a conscience and confidant).

Cromwell’s rise to the top is at the expense of his compassion.  There is a message here: the acquisition of power costs at a personal level.

Nick Powell’s sound design enriches the action on the bare stage: we can envisage the baying mob, an offstage jousting tournament – the entire show is presented with such economy, the actors are allowed to bring us the story in a direct and evocative manner.  The play concludes with Henry’s marriage to Jane Seymour (a very funny Leah Brotherhead) and it feels like there should be more episodes to cover her fate and the other three wives to come…  I hope Hilary Mantel and Mike Poulton have set their quills to work.

Thomas Cromwell (Ben Miles) Photo: Keith Pattison

Thomas Cromwell (Ben Miles) Photo: Keith Pattison