Greenwich Theatre, London – until 24 March. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Lazarus Theatre continue their yearlong residency at Greenwich Theatre with a pulsating production of Lord of the Flies.
A plane full of British schoolboys, evacuated from an unspecified war, crashes on a remote island. No adults survive, so the boys must create their own society as they wait for a rescue that may never happen.
William Golding’s novel is polarising after being on the school curriculum for so long. My friends’ reactions when I asked if they wanted to be my plus one for press night were all pretty similar – groans and shudders as they relived long hours at school listening to the teacher’s droning voice murdering the entire novel and reminding us to mention original sin in every paragraph of our exam essays – even the lure of a Lazarus take on the story couldn’t tempt them. If only we’d had the chance to experience a production like this – the theatre was full of mostly GCSE students whose pre-show attitude didn’t bode well (one lad had bought his Nintendo with him) but this production had them gripped. I have never seen a young audience more engaged and affected by a play. This production should be recorded and distributed to schools.
Nigel Williams’ adaptation loses, by necessity, lots of the philosophical content of Golding’s novel, leaving the bare bones of the plot. Director Ricky Dukes takes this even further, foregoing any backdrop of sand and sea and instead having an empty, unadorned stage, with Ben Jacobs lighting design portraying the baking island sun or the eerie trails amongst the trees stunningly.
The action begins with a hoodie Haka to pulsing dance music (the first of many as the boys descend to savagery), setting the scene of the plane crash, before the cast scatter and emerge from around the auditorium at the call of Piggy’s precious conch. The use of the entire theatre space is inspired, with an entire seating area being used as ramshackle shelters, and action taking place in the aisles.
The casting is gender split, but the entire company play their characters as boys, meaning that the gender of each actor is soon forgotten. Amber Wadey is wide-eyed and energetic as Ralph, struggling to keep to the norms of society, but excited by the freedom of the island, and Luke MacLeod captures Piggy’s pedantic, annoying but thoroughly decent character brilliantly. Benjamin Victor as Simon is like a visitor from another world, in a beautifully judged performance. Nick Cope is stunning as Jack, bubbling with anger, pride and violence, but still recognisably a terrified little boy trying to cope in a strange new world. Georgina Barley also impresses as the odious and sycophantic Roger, prowling around the stage with a gleeful smile as the bloodshed increases.
The mounting terror on the island is handled with minimal stage effects and maximum horror and tension. The appearance of the parachutist will make you jump out of your seat, and the deaths are horrible. The discussions in the audience as we sat eating ice cream as Victor lay onstage throughout the interval after Simon’s murder completely validated the decision not to push straight through without a break. (I must admit I was a bit conflicted about the need to break when the lights came up at first.)
This is an exhilarating, energetic and brutal production that will leave you breathless. Another triumph for Lazarus Theatre.