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Lord of the Flies heads from Regent's Park to Woking - theatre review

PUBLISHED: 14:41 09 September 2015 | UPDATED: 15:27 09 September 2015

Archant

Lord of the Flies is one of those school books that stays with you forever. William Golding's brutal narrative about a group of schoolboys stranded on an island was very different to the more genteel curriculum novels that were handed out at my own school, and we lapped it up with that slight fascination teenagers have for shock and gore.

Published in 1954, it was seen as a shockingly honest portrayal of human nature. The schoolboys are stranded on a tropical island after their plane is shot down during war time and the story is said to reflect Golding’s own experience of the violence and horror of the Second World War. The savage hunger of Jack and the plight of poor Piggy have never left me, and Peter’s Brook’s 1963 film, made in black and white, stamped the images even more firmly in my mind.

And yet I was still not quite prepared for the rawness of the live version, adapted for the stage by Nigel William’s and now showing at Regents Park Open Air Theatre. The open air setting is disturbingly realistic - Jon Bausor’s design, which includes half a broken aeroplane, a mountain of crumpled suitcases and personal items strewn across a mound of sand, is very effective amongst the huge trees of Regent’s Park.

The young cast, many of whom make their stage debut in this production, appear genuinely naive and innocent, making their demise into savagery all the more poignant. Timothy Sheader’s direction draws from the boys a frantic energy and nervous tension, using the slanting wing of the plane and the upturned tail as platforms for confrontation and cleverly choreographed fight scenes. Despite being a memorable story line, there are not many twists and turns in the plot so the pace of the boys’ decline needs to maintain momentum and energy - this the cast achieve admirably and each character is developed well. Luke Ward-Wilkinson is endearingly trusting as Ralph, and Anthony Roberts as the keen-to-please, bumbling Piggy will pull on every parent’s heart string. Bullying was rife in the ‘50s and is much the same today, and it is not watered down or smoothed over in this production - Piggy is taunted, shoved and made a scape goat very early on. Indeed, I found myself dreading the second act where I knew Piggy’s glasses would be pinched, and that worse was still to come.

If you want to get your head around the savagery of human beings when thrown together in dire situations, the programme includes an essay on The Nature of Being Human by Professor Tanya Byron. As a school text book, themes of order versus disorder and good versus bad are studied, and with further exploration, the Freudian theory of conflict between the id, the superego and the ego which is delivered here by the spade-full. Byron also explores how, as humans, we feel the need to manage conflicting instincts to live by the rules versus an instinct to act against one’s will, in order to gain supremacy. Byron also explains how violence in children is often perceived to come from a certain upbringing or background, and yet here we have Jack - the school choir prefect no less - who seizes the opportunity to act in completely the opposite way expected of him. There is plenty to discuss on the tube ride home, and for many days after in fact.

Regarding the play as a visual experience, it is absolutely gripping throughout. The boys are endearing yet their rapid descent is frightening. They are innocent yet violent beyond their years, bound by duty and order, yet quick to abandon both. It is a fascinating but disturbing study of how quickly we, as humans, can tumble into animal behaviour, and how fear can transform the path long trodden by one individual.

It will be interesting to see how Bausor’s fantastic set transforms to the indoor stage, and I hope the young cast are able to adapt to new surroundings as they tour the country. As they stood in a line to take their bows at the end of a physically demanding evening, they looked genuinely exhausted by the sheer emotion of the journey they had taken. They have seized this production with their frantic, sandy hands and I am sure will continue to wring the very best out of Golding’s emotionally gripping tale.

  • Lord of the Flies is at Regents Park Open Air Theatre until September 12. Then touring, beginning with New Victoria Woking from September 16 to 19. Box office: www.atgtickets.com/new-victoria-theatre

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