“So what if they are all dead? We can do what we like!” And so begins Regents Park Open Air Theatre’s shocking, visceral and thrilling touring production of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies which opened last night at the Wycombe Swan.
I often wonder, when standing in an airport terminal, what happens to aircraft when they’re decommissioned. It seems that they have an afterlife as theatre and film props and, in this case, for Jon Bausor’s spectacular set.
A whole half fuselage dominates the stage with a mountain of debris and luggage (I’m sure I spotted one of my lost suitcases) littering the canopy.
Wycombe’s opening night audience was dominated by coachloads of schoolboys and there isn’t a better story to engage recalcitrant teens to the theatre.
Every act of violence and savagery was met with appreciative noises. And they particularly liked the passing finesse of Jonathan Holby’s fluidly choreographed game of find the conch shell.
But I wouldn’t like to be in their playgrounds today in the aftermath to this exposure to gang warfare and anarchy. It’ll give them way too many ideas.
Golding’s controversial story makes an ideal set text. It’s a psychologist’s, and exam-setter’s, dream. There are so many theories, so many strands to discuss. Where do you begin?
Well, I’d begin, if you haven’t already, by getting a seat to watch Nigel Williams’ spellbinding adaptation. Director Timothy Sheader has elicited top-flight performances from a young, and mostly inexperienced, cast. There’s only one proper, grown-up, looking adult (the versatile Jonathan Holby), who has a fleeting cameo, and he brings a dose of reality to the brutal adventure of the lost boys.
It would be simplistic to say it’s a story of good and evil, class divide, the collapse of civilisation or a Paradise Lost-style allegory about sin, but it’s thought-provoking drama. Would a group of young schoolgirls, put in a similar predicament, behave in the same way? Never..or would they?
Golding’s experiment with human nature is clinically precise. A plane comes down on a desert island and the only survivors seem to be a group of boys (and, yes, the plot does appear to have been stolen by Sky’s hit TV series, Lost).
First we meet the myopic Piggy, the fat boy and destined to be one of life’s victims. He’s grateful to find the reasonable Ralph, who shakes hands and sets about establishing some set of rules to ensure survival.
Soon another group turn up, led by Jack, who has Alpha male bloodied onto his face; Roger, a thug of a boy; and a cute little blond moppet called Perceval who only has his teddy for company.
There’s always the assumption, and it’s a typically British attitude, that civilisation can only succeed when humanity plays the game, following rules, boundaries, and organisation. Jack has no intention of following the rules. His only mandate is to survive, by whatever means necessary.
What starts out as an aggressive game, and a desire to find food, turns much darker and malevolent where only the strong can survive.
The joint performance by identical twins Thiago and Fellipe Pigatto is fascinating to watch as they speak their lines in unison. There are also standout turns by stand-in Connor Brabyn as Jack and Luke Ward-Wilkinson as Ralph who clash in their battle for leadership.
Little Benedict Barker as Perceval is the epitome of cuteness while Anthony Roberts gives an endearing performance as the bullies’ victim, Piggy.
Williams has updated Golding’s story, throwing in modern references including the group posing for a selfie (then not being able to send it because there’s no 3G), a mention of Bear Grylls and their ordeal being likened to something out of I’m a Celebrity.
“What’s best? Rules and order or hunting and savagery,” cries Ralph. Mmm, the jury’s out on that one.
Lord of the Flies plays at Wycombe Swan until Saturday.
Lord of the Flies
Violent, bloody and brutal, Regents Park Open Air Theatre’s savage and thrilling touring production of Lord of the Flies at Wycombe Swan.