Greenwich Theatre – 20 to 30 March 2019
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Lazarus Theatre’s pulsating production of Lord of the Flies returns to Greenwich Theatre and is even more exhilarating the second time round.
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.
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 (and scaring the bejeesus out of the schoolkids in the audience!).
The savagery and animal instincts of the boys seems even more pronounced this year, with simian leaps and yells that would make Andy Serkis proud, and the contrast between the hunters’ shouts and chants and Ralph’s group’s desperate clinging to the remnants and trappings of decent society is played to great effect – never more so than the reveal of what the hunters actually use as tribal markings. The boys’ sense of entitlement depending on whether they’re at a “good” school and the social pecking order inherent in that system, is bitterly relevant right now, but also ripe for a few good gags, with Jack declaring that he’ll bring strong and stable leadership to the island. The sense of childhood innocence being corrupted by freedom and fear is always palpable and the power of Golding’s novel is enhanced by the manic physicality of the production.
The casting is gender split, but the entire company play their characters as boys, meaning that the gender of each actor is soon forgotten. Alice Hutchinson impresses as Ralph, nailing the conflict between gleeful liberation and responsibility, and Tommy Carmichael captures Piggy’s pedantic, annoying but thoroughly decent character brilliantly and amusingly. Benjamin Victor as Simon is like a visitor from another world, in a beautifully judged and ethereal performance. Matt Penson is a revelation as Jack – utterly convincing in his rage and violence but always allowing glimpses of terrified little boy trying to cope in a strange new world. Darcy Willison also impresses as the odious and sycophantic Roger, prowling around the stage with terrifying bloodlust and shedding all responsibility and morality as he follows his chief’s orders.
The mounting terror on the island is handled with minimal stage effects and maximum horror and tension. The appearance of the parachutist will still make you jump out of your seat, and the deaths are terrifying. The schoolchildren behind me were still in shock, giggling nervously as we sat eating ice cream as Victor lay onstage throughout the interval after Simon’s murder (although they had calmed down enough to rank the shirtless male cast by hotness before the action resumed), and when poor Piggy’s time came the gasps and shrieks were even more vocal.
Deliciously dark and disturbing, Lord of the Flies thrills and shocks in equal measure. A must-see production.