Reviews – drama

Lord Of The Flies – review

[Originally published in Arts in Leicester  magazine, 10th February 2016. Re-published here.]

Curve, main theatre
Lord of The Flies runs from 8th February to 13th February

A play adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams from the novel by William Golding.
Directed by Timothy Sheader
Our rating: ****

Reviewed by Trevor Locke

A gripping and imaginative production.


Reading the programme notes for tonight’s play was almost as entertaining as the show itself. In The nature of being human, Professor Tanya Byron takes ‘a deeper look at what this story tells us about the nature of being human.’ The said academic is a consultant in child and adolescent mental health, writer and presenter on TV shows. Her piece, in the programme, was absorbing. It got me thinking about the plays, books and films that have portrayed teenage violence since William Golding’s novel was published in 1954 and Peter Brook’s film of the book came out in 1963. I would not want to suggest that this play is about teenage violence – it portrays much more than that – but several films came to mind as I read Byron’s contribution. I remembered attending a conference of youth justice workers at which SCUM was screened. Alan Clarke’s dark portrayal of life in a British borstal, released in 1983, was a seminal moment for me, at that time, as well as for the 200 or so social workers and probation officers with whom I watched the film. What stuck in my mind was the scene in which the Borstal inmates riot in the dining hall breaking up the furniture in a collective frenzy of teenage violence. Bear in mind that the old Borstals were based on English public schools and their regimes of character-building and devotion to rules and discipline.

As I continued to read, other films came into my mind: Lindsay Anderson’s IF which satirised the life of English public schools, Brighton Rock by Graham Green, a story of teenage sociopaths, hoodlums and the battles brought by Rockers against Mods, The Outsiders, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 classic about tough working class teens and their rivals from the wealthier side of town. In fact, I even saw parallels with West Side Story, Romeo and Juliet and Rebel Without a Cause.

Many art forms since the 50s and 60s have dwelt on the nature of young male behaviour and seen it in dark terms of violence and aggression. To Professor Byron, tonight’s play is about ‘human nature’ despite the fact that the characters are all male and all young (in the book they are preadolescent, 6 to 12) and there are no female characters in the play. Tonight’s cast was made up of actors who looked to be in their late teens or early 20s with the exception of Perceval ( a role played tonight by David Evans). Ever since the Brixton Riots of the 1980s, teenagers and young adults have been demonised in the news and popular culture, which might explain why Golding’s 1954 novel has such an enduring appeal.

Like a lot of very successful books and dramas, Lord of the Flies can be interpreted in a number of ways and certainly its plot operates on many levels. It is ostensibly about a group of English public school boys who are marooned on a desert island after their air-plane crashes. It shows how the thin veneer of their upper class upbringing and civilisation is destroyed as they resort to savagery, tribalism, murder and bloodsports. In and beneath that, the plot is about leadership, morality and power, portraying the tense dialectic of group dynamics with individuality. You might see the plot as a struggle for survival, and yes it does show that, or what happens to well brought-up boys when the reins of adult supervision are removed.

Tonight’s production at Curve was dominated by the set design of Jon Bausor. The plot takes place on a desert island sometimes on the beach (near to the remains of the crashed aircraft), sometimes on the top of a hill (Castle Rock) and at times in a forest. Putting all that on to a small stage was bound to be a challenge. As with many recent productions, the same set remains in place throughout the two acts. The action – of which there is plenty – takes place around, in and on the various parts of the fuselage of the tail of the crashed plane. It is a set which requires the audience to use its imagination.

The cast of young male actors imbued the production with plenty of energy and when not acting their roles were choreographed into a series of dance-like moves, moments when some of them were frozen while the dialogue took place elsewhere and the kind of running, jumping, climbing and leaping about that only a young athletic ensemble could achieve. Nigel Williams’s adaptation of the Golding novel tells the story and unravels the plot (however you want to interpret it) whilst grappling with the logistics of life in a forested desert island with a beach and a hill. Reading Nick Smurthwaite’s programme note ‘Trouble in Paradise‘, I particularly valued his paragraph:

My experience showed me that the only falsification in Golding’s fable is the length of time the descent into savagery takes. His action takes about three months. I believe that if the cork of continued adult presence were removed from the bottle, complete catastrophe could occur within one long weekend.

He is quoting the words of Peter Brook, the director or the 1963 film, in which he took a group of untrained young actors to make the film on an island in Puerto Rico. When Golding sent his book to the publishers, the plot began with an atomic explosion which brought down the boys’ plane and led to the long the long delay to their rescue.

In that respect, Lord of the Flies is an allegory of the shallowness of civilisation generally and of mankind’s descent into savagery when law and order are removed; if that is how you want to see it, then both the book, the film and the play deserve a place alongside Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story.

A production from Regent’s Park Theatre Ltd.