The Lord of the Flies
Regent’s Park Theatre Ltd
At Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Novel by William Golding
Adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams
Directed by Timothy Sheader
Co-Directed by Liam Steel
Reviewer: Mary Moncrieff
The theatre is abuzz with teenage chatter and back row ‘selfies’ at the first showing of a play adapted from a novel on every school’s curriculum. But the players on-stage display an entirely different picture of youth in the touring production of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams.
Amidst the wreckage of an enormous jet plane, brilliantly designed by Jon Bausor with a seemingly never-ending amount of moving parts, schoolboys must face their own inherent savagery whilst awaiting rescue. The group quickly devolves into an us-versus-them mentality, with factions led by the calm, collected Ralph (Luke Ward-Wilkinson) and the ruthless, violent Jack (Freddie Watkins). Watkins is especially magnetic to watch, his heightened accent perfect for the pretentious character and his lanky body calling to mind Caesar’s worries about Cassius’ “lean and hungry look.”
Ward-Wilkinson’s Ralph has a lovely youth and innocence to start the play, tried and tested by Piggy, played beautifully by Anthony Roberts. His Yorkshire accent and somatic ticks work terrifically to ostracise him from the group. Keenan Munn-Francis brings to life the other outsider, Simon, with an almost heart-breaking naiveté. In a particularly brilliant scene, Munn-Francis is able to accurately portray a seizure that is painful to watch.
The supporting cast has shining moments: Perceval (in this performance played by David Evans) is especially adorable, and able, despite his young age, to play with the big boys. Matthew Castle’s Roger is at times nearly as frightening as Watkins’ Jack, and his unabashed, unofficial lieutenant in cruelty is played with dedication and tenacity.
The second act’s descent into chaos and savagery is achieved almost entirely by costume, but it is essential to mention the physical work of Jack’s hunters. Watkins, Castle and crew (Dylan Llewellyn, Michael Ajao, Yossi Goodlink) are fascinating to observe as they intricately work animalistic, especially simian and ape-like, gestures into play. Watkins’ skilfully adopts chimpanzee sounds into his breathing that make for a truly terrifying final climax of barbarity.
While the set is visually spectacular, it doesn’t allow for an enormous playing space. This causes multiple confusing moments where the two warring camps are acting simultaneously but separately, utilising soft freezes and light changes to alert the audience to the switch. At times it was clunky and, in one particular movement sequence, rather frightening as swinging spears came very close to heads. This kind of concern can pull an audience’s focus away from storytelling and onto actor safety, which is not ideal. The original sound design by Avgoustos Psillas for Autograph, while invigorating, is often at times far too loud, drowning the actors’ voices out.
Ultimately the production is entirely worth seeing, as the young actors seem to have an unending well of energy from which to draw. Each player does have a microphone, which unfortunately invites some of the more untrained cast members to rather lacklustre voice work, and a reliance on shouting that may bring problems down the line in the tour. However, this classic story remains as thought provoking and haunting as ever and a production that offers an audience member an opportunity to rethink their own humanity is well worth the price of a ticket.
Runs until 7th November 2015 and then touring until March 2016