The first thing that strikes you about this new stage adaptation of William Golding’s classic dystopian novel is Jon Bausor’s astounding set: the huge section of a passenger jet, shorn in half and dropped onto a jungle-edged beach that extends right to the front row of the audience. Given recent images in our news bulletins, having luggage spilled around the wreckage like the guts of a pig is a sobering and unsettling sight, which composer Nick Powell’s discordant clash of rhythmic drumming and boys’ choir does little to ease.
Given recent images in our news bulletins, having luggage spilled around the wreckage like the guts of a pig is a sobering and unsettling sight, which composer Nick Powell’s discordant clash of rhythmic drumming and boys’ choir does little to ease.
And then we’re off with a leap, with the introduction of two of the story’s main characters: sensible-headed Ralph (a likeable Luke Ward-Wilkinson), always keen to do the decent thing; and the overweight, poor-sighted, asthmatic bully-magnet Piggy (a deliciously annoying Anthony Roberts). Then more survivals turn up; all boys from a variety of different schools, but with the priggish, upper-class Jack Merridew at their head. He’s already so hyper that you’d think Freddie Watkins has nowhere to go emotionally with the character. Chillingly, though, he does; his portrayal of Jack’s descent into sweaty animalistic violence is the focal point of this production.
In small ways this adaptation updates Golding’s tale – the inclusion of a selfie-stick here, a mention of jungle-based TV show “I’m a Celebrity…” there. The only jarring reminder of the book’s 1950s origins is the all-male nature of the schools and a later assertion that the boys should have put on “a better show” because they were British. Except, this is arguably an aspect of Golding’s tale that this production deliberately emphasises – the innate violence barely contained within the British class system. Ralph is the middle-class boy stuck between working-class Piggy – not afraid of demanding his dues – and upper-class Frank, who believes he’s entitled to be leader as he was a prefect at his school (as opposed to Ralph, who was elected democratically by all the boys). When the “blooded” hunters head off into the jungle, leaving Ralph and a few others on the beach, it’s primarily because of Jack’s disappointment in middle-class mediation. “I thought you were a decent chap,” he says. “We had a good gang.”
Tightly directed by Timothy Sheader, his cast ably portray the boys’ initial optimism at having a fun time together in the sunshine, but almost immediately we’re shown warning signs – they tear up a book to help start a fire and, when that gets out of control, their “stamping it out” is choreographed and lit as an aboriginal dance. Yet arguably the most startling aspect of the cast’s performance remains at the close, when – spoiler alert! – in an instant, they switch from animalistic violence to guilty-children in the face of grown up authority and civilisation.
Undoubtedly a stunning, exuberant production.