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Lord of the Flies

From the novel by William Golding, adapted by Nigel Williams
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
(2011)

Lord of the Flies production photo

As you walk into the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, your eyes are immediately drawn to the stage - the theatre has taken full advantage of their large outdoor space and put in yet another spectacular set. The smoking wreck of a plane dominates the right side, complete with suitcases spilling out, and a torn off wing makes a ramp on the left. It's a good thing there's no curtain hiding it, or the first five minutes of Lord of the Flies would be lost to goggling at Jon Bausor's set.

That would be a shame. The play, adapted from William Golding's classic novel by Nigel Williams, starts strongly with the appearance of Ralph and Piggy, two school boys who have survived a plane wreck and found themselves alone on a desert island. The two strike up a friendship and are quickly joined by the other surviving schoolboys. After a brief struggle for leadership between Ralph and the already power-hungry Jack Merridew, Ralph becomes the leader of the tribe.

The chaos settles in quickly. Whilst Ralph's priority is to keep a fire going as a smoke signal, Jack is more intent on hunting. James Clay plays the imposing Jack, whipping the boys into a frenzy with his chants and dances. Yet whenever he loses his power, his tantrums remind you that he's still just a bossy child. Through a good script and an excellent performance, we see how easy it is for him to justify his actions to himself.

Meanwhile, Alistair Toovey as Ralph starts with an air of carefree adventure before descending in worry and doubt. Toovey has a boyish charm at the start, and his despair is palpable as he desperately clings to his ideals.

As the play gets darker, so does the sky. The innocuous fires in Act One become menacing in Act Two. By the time night has fallen, the boys loyal to Jack have painted themselves, and, as they run around the stage with lighted brands, they strike a powerful tribal image, creating an incredible atmosphere of primal savagery.

The atmosphere is only enhanced by director Tim Sheader and fight director Kate Waters. Although clearly tightly choreographed, the movement retains the feeling of raw energy and spontaneity.

There is also spontaneity in Jon Bausor's design; as well as the initial wonder of the set, there are hidden surprises and removable panels. By the end, the set has fallen apart as much as the tribe.

The show is a little too long; after the initial hasty rush into savagery, the pace slows and becomes somewhat repetitive, but the energetic direction and the excellent performances of the young cast keep it afloat. James McConville and Stuart Matthews work well together as the vulnerable twins Sam and Eric, and nine-year-old Harrison Sansostri strikes all the right notes of cute and funny as Perceval.

Despite a few flaws, the production is visually stunning and amazingly atmospheric. Raw, powerful, energetic and disturbing, the show is a brilliant professional debut for many of the cast and another feather in the cap for artistic director Tim Sheader.

Reviewer: Emma Berge