William Golding’s first novel, Lord of the Flies is perhaps one of the best-known works of literature thanks to its inclusion in the curriculum, and film adaptations. The stage version from Nigel Williams has always had a little less prominence, last seen in 2011, The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre became the desert island, replete with smoking fuselage and sandy beach. Lazarus Theatre’s residency at Greenwich Theatre, sees director, Ricky Dukes take a very different approach.
In the opening minutes, the stage looks more like a rehearsal room than an island, the cast limbering up to dance music in non-descript grey hoodies. Then something quite remarkable happens, the stage is transformed through incredible lighting, which sets the tone for the entire performance.
With very little set or props, the cast look lost in a vast space lit by a harsh sun or exposed in the darkness of night. This drives home the emotional message more than any amount of sand or painted vista could ever manage, and so Lord of the Flies becomes a visual feast which often extends beyond the confines of the stage.
The production is intensely physical, the main themes of the piece are played out through striking choreography which sets the tribe mentality and brings focus to the isolation. There are moments which both shock and terrify the audience, especially when ‘the beast’ makes an appearance, it’s a long time since I literally jumped out my seat during a theatrical performance.
In an interesting set-up, the characters are played with a 50/50 gender split, and while all the characters remain male; in so far as they have traditionally male names and are referred to as ‘he’ or ‘him’, half are played by females. This is sure to open up some controversy or debate, Golding wrote the novel with the intention of exploring how boys would react in the situation, but a few minutes in and the captivating design and movement means you soon forget the gender-neutral casting.
I was left wondering though, why not go the full hog? Perhaps the audience would have taken a different interpretation had the characters also had their gender changed. And, it may have been interesting to see the more level-headed Ralph played by a male, while the blood-thirsty Jack could have been female.
Yet, the young cast embrace their roles with relish, Amber Wadey brings a civilised approach to Ralph, supported by Luke MacLeod’s Piggy. As Jack, Nick Cope is superb, perfectly capturing the menacing, and often sadistic side to the role. Indeed, it is the whole cast who make this production work so well, each bringing something refreshing to their respective roles.
The stage adaptation of Lord of the Flies does require a bit of a stretch from the audience’s point of view, there simply isn’t the time to fully explore the characters motivations or get a true sense of the loss of innocence which comes through so strongly in the novel. Where past productions have tried to counter this with lavish sets, this production sets itself apart by creating stunning visual motifs coupled with an impressive cast.