Lord of the Flies
William Golding, adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams
York Theatre Royal
Ten years ago Pilot Theatre brought Lord of the Flies to the stage to great critical acclaim. They revisited it in 2005 for the anniversary of author William Golding's book and here it is again in 2008. The book's popularity and resonance throughout is testimony to the greatness of this incomparable story, and makes it a powerful vehicle for the stage.
A plane crashes on a tropical island leaving a group of boys to fend for themselves amongst the jungle and idyllic beaches. Piggy, the overweight and asthmatic working class boy, insists that they must have rules and a systematic approach to keeping a fire going in order to create a smoke signal for any potential rescuers. The more charismatic Ralph is elected leader, much to the dislike of Jack, the sadistic, public school Choir prefect. At first order is maintained and the boys work together to build shelters and maintain the fire. However Jack, now leader of the Hunters, begins to split the group by offering some of the boys the thrill of the chase as they hunt and kill the wild boar that live on the island.
This schism is fuelled by the children's belief in 'The Beast' which they begin to live in fear of. While Ralph tries to discover the truth about the Beast, Jack exploits the boys' fear. It is only Simon, the quiet and meditative young boy, who truly understands that the Beast is created by them and lives inside all human nature. Running through the jungle he returns to the group and arrives at the peak of one of Jack's post-kill, tribal rituals. With order gone and control blown to the wind, the frenzied mob of children turn on him and he is torn to pieces. As Jack's tribe become more savage, what was a paradise becomes a nightmare with further deaths and the final hunt, this time for Ralph's head.
Using multi-media projections, a techno soundtrack and a set of plane wreckage, director Marcus Romer begins the show with a haunting a Welsh hymn but updates the book's 1950s setting. Solitary Simon is mocked for being a 'Buddha-man', CNN news reports flash through in sound bites and soldiers in modern day uniforms finally end the show. Not having scene the previous productions but as an avid fan of the book, I am told that these additions remain from Pilot's past shows. The question is, do they work?
What ultimately undercuts this production is the age of the actors. Adults acting as children is always difficult to pull off and continually in danger of becoming parody, grating or nauseating. The programme notes that this cast is older than previous shows and as they discard their shirts on stage we see that it features some extremely well muscled physiques. Unfortunately this continual visual proof that these actors are far removed from being naive, young school boys only serves to push some already questionable 'child acting' over the edge.
However problems arise in other areas too. Much of Simon's soliloquy confronting his sudden understanding of the Beast is incomprehensible, leaving those that do not know the original narrative by-passed in a major plot device. The techno beats that accompany the jungle hunt are at odds with the setting, bringing to mind a technologically advanced society rather than isolated exploits of a pack of wild children. Only Dominic Doughty's performance as the irritating but ultimately wise Piggy stands out.
Where Peter Brook's brilliant 1963 film so breathtakingly illustrated the drifting passage of time and the gradual descent into savagery as the children only grasp in the dark at their understanding of the situation, Pilot's action seems to take place is almost one day. With a show packed full of script there is hardly a pause to take in the children's mounting fear (and creation) of the Beast. Further to this, Golding's book was written to illustrate a time when so much went unspoken and unquestioned because these norms were inherent within the class and power systems. That 'will to power' drives Jack and leaves the others struggling to dismiss his actions as well as vulnerable to capitulating to his orders. On stage, in a more modern day setting, with a rather eloquent set of 'children', is this norm of the 1950s still the same? With today's far more expressive youth, one has to beg to differ.
Whilst this production might make some of the unmatchable book accessible to those who have not yet read it, it will thoroughly disappoint those who have.
Sandra Giorgetti reviewed this production at the Uniciorn Theatre in 2009
Reviewer: Cecily Boys