Monday, 13 June 2011

Lord of the Flies at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre - Review

Lord of the Flies at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

19 May–18 June, Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park.

I’ve never seen a dramatic adaptation of Lord of the Flies so I was really looking forward to watching this performance.  It was even more exciting because of the location; the Open Air theatre in Regent’s Park is such an ideal place to stage Lord of the Flies with its natural surroundings – the trees and foliage around the stage were used to such great effect and were very much a part of the show.  Despite fears of bad weather, the matinee performance on 9th June began in blazing sunshine but inexplicably, as the plot darkened, so did the weather with heavy rain accompanying the killing of Simon.  All of which, of course, enhanced the electrifying atmosphere.
The stage itself was really rather impressive, comprising a sandy beach and a crashed plane segment with oxygen masks deployed (later used to great effect) – reminiscent of the drama series Lost.  The ‘beach’ was littered with suitcases and their contents, clearly identifiable as children’s belongings.  Clothing was haphazardly strewn in the trees and the bushes.    Throughout the play, the stage was used superbly; the top of the plane provided a means to get to the ‘hill’ where poor Piggy would later meet his fate, Perceval first appeared from the bushes as if from another part of the island and a piece of plane debris provided a useful slope for various pursuits and a resting place for the Lord of the Flies himself, the severed pig’s head.
Nigel Williams wrote this authorised adaptation of Lord of the Flies and although it can’t possibly recreate a story as complex and loaded with symbolism as Golding’s novel, it comes pretty close.  There are a few changes from the novel in which the action is necessarily condensed and simplified – for instance, the forest fire that kills one of the ‘littluns’ does occur in the play but isn’t fatal, although staged extremely well; and the number of boys in the main narrative are reduced to eleven, however, Ralph and the others frequently refer to another group of small boys on the island that they can see.  There is an attempt to bring the story into a modern setting.  One of the boys, (Bill, I think) fiddles with a mobile phone near the beginning before flinging it into the bushes, Roger appears wearing headphones and Perceval carries a Ben 10 rucksack.  This hint of the contemporary is very subtle and not reflected in the dialogue.  It isn’t distracting for those familiar with the novel; indeed, I would suggest it elucidates the timeless power that Lord of the Flies possesses.
The performances of the young actors are extraordinary.  As an ensemble, they are all very strong, inhabiting these familiar roles with ease.  Perceval is played in rotation by three boys; on this occasion, Spike White was in the role and appears younger than his ten years, displaying vulnerability and is at times, unbearably cute and funny, which helps to break up the overriding pessimism.  He also unwittingly points Jack in Ralph’s direction during the final climatic chase.  It is very difficult to select one of the actors as a ‘stand-out’ from the others, for many of them this production is their first professional theatre performance.  A number of other reviewers have highlighted George Bukhari’s portrayal of Piggy as particularly excellent and I wouldn’t disagree with this assessment.  He is able to elicit both pity and mockery from the audience – which is exactly how we’re supposed to feel about Piggy.  I’ve written elsewhere in this blog about the character of Roger, and how he was poorly used in the two film adaptations.  Roger is the most terrifying character in the book, far more so than Jack, and in this production, Roger’s cruelty (and probable inherent ‘badness’) is displayed to full effect by Matt Ingram’s superb performance.  When Roger first appears skulking in the plane fragment, separating himself from the others with headphones, we begin to get a sense that all is not well with this young man.  As the narrative moves to the bloodier events, Roger becomes out of control with Ingram leaping around the stage like an animal, seemingly having lost almost every shred of humanity.
As the stage couldn’t disappear behind a curtain for set changes, and as it really wasn’t big enough to show two parts of the island once the group had split into two camps, director Timothy Sheader had to come up with an innovative method for conveying the sense of two disparate gangs in two different places.  And it is a triumph.  While Jack and his hunters are chasing pigs and daubing themselves with blood, Ralph, Piggy, Sam, Eric and Simon freeze on the stage in their positions.  This is reversed time and time again and effectively juxtaposes the ‘good’ and the ‘evil’.  Piggy worries about what Jack is capable of whilst we are looking at a freeze frame of spears and violence.  The choreography is spectacular; in particular the murder of Simon which is genuinely frightening.  The boys often move in slow motion, backed by a specially commissioned musical score, heightening the tension.  The set is utilised to great effect in the final chase scene.
The one minor disappointment is the final scene, when the Military Officer arrives to bring a halt to Jack’s pursuit of Ralph.  It lacks the power of Golding’s conclusion in which Ralph ‘wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy’ (223).  It is perhaps difficult to convey this on stage with its sparse dialogue.
There were a large number of school pupils watching this performance and it is testament to the brilliance of the play that the audience was completely silent and absorbed in the events unfolding on stage.  It is also evidence that Golding’s novel, written over fifty years ago, is still as relevant and shocking today.
It’s only on for a few more days, so if you haven’t seen it yet, buy your tickets now!  Absolutely spectacular.

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