Friday, 23 March 2012

Interview with Sell A Door Theatre Company - Lord of the Flies

Sell A Door 2012 Lord of the Flies UK Tour
Interview with Ben Wiggins and Daniel Ash

Sell A Door Theatre Company are currently touring England with their production of Lord of the Flies which has received excellent reviews. Ben Wiggins (Ralph), and Daniel Ash (Percival) kindly answered our questions about the play.

How does it feel to be working on an adaptation of such a well-known novel?  Is it more challenging than working with an original script?

Ben: It feels great! There is obviously a lot of pressure to do the story justice because it has made such a massive contribution to English literature and holds quite a special place for many people. The only slight difference there is when working with such a well-known piece as opposed to an original script is that people hold certain expectations about and attitudes towards the characters. This means that my interpretation of Ralph may conflict with how someone else had perceived him when they read the book. Unfortunately, there isn’t much anyone can do about that!

            Daniel: Such an iconic and well known novel. It sells itself. People oooh and ahhh when I tell them what play I’m in and want to come and see it! It’s just as exciting being in it. The stage adaption rushes through the action so quickly; the audience won’t be bored. It’s a challenge conveying everything             in the book in just a few lines on stage, pace and time pass so quickly from page to page in the script. An exciting piece to be working on.

Lord of the Flies was published in 1954.  Do you think the book still has relevance today?

Ben: Certainly! Apart from the fact that a war is mentioned in the novel, there is very little else that places the action into any specific time frame which means that one has the ability to transport it to any era. The story isn’t really about when or where the action takes place: it focusses on the collapse of humanity and morality. Also, the fact that the story centres on a group of young boys who are still mainly in the bosom of innocence means that there is a timelessness about the tale. I think if a group of young boys today were stranded on a desert island with no adults and only their ‘morals’, the consequences may will be similar! The primal instincts that become evident within the boys are, I believe, in all of us and without the protective structure of society and authority this savagery could well manifest itself.

            Daniel: Definitely. The climax of the play is based around group/mob mentality; getting caught up in the excitement/horror of a situation. You only have to look at the riots last summer for a striking parallel. And I suppose the book says whoever you are, rich, poor, well bought up or not, that aggression and animalism is in everyone.

How the play is being staged? Is it challenging to create a deserted island in a theatre?

Ben: The staging of the play may be somewhat different to other productions. Sell A Door liked the concept of having the whole island story as a flashback. The stage is set up like a school gymnasium with punch bags, boxing bags, ropes and large treads. During the opening scene, a gym class is in progress until one incident (a boy being pushed over and having his glasses taken) breaks the routine and the boys begin to get out of hand. The teacher (an older Ralph) loses control of the boys and chaos ensues. During the disorder, the stage is transformed into a beach with sand and the play actually begins (it is quite difficult to fully explain without seeing the performance!) In the closing scene we return to the gymnasium with the teacher in a complete state about having these violent memories return to him.

            Daniel: Sell a Door’s adaptation has a very clever set design and well thought out concept. The play starts in a gymnasium at a school and a moment of havoc spirals out of control until the kids have turned the gymnasium into the island, using the punch bags, ropes, treads etc.
            The staging is very adventurous. Such a physical adaptation. From rehearsal one, warm ups involved press ups, sits up, jumping, running, a proper work out; very testosterone fuelled and high energy. Great choreographed physical routines and set changes too.

Were the cast and crew familiar with the novel before getting involved in the production?

Ben: I had studied it at school so was familiar with the story but decided to reread the book at least twice before rehearsals started in order to get a real sense of who my character was and what William Golding was trying to say. I also watched both of the films, not so much to see how the boys played Ralph but to watch/remember how children that age interact with one another. However, the Nigel Williams stage adaptation does differ somewhat from the novel and I think that it is important to treat them as separate works and I believe that some members of the cast actually deliberately didn’t reread the book so that they could make fresh choices with their characters.

            Daniel: I read the novel pre audition but of course was familiar with the story. I was surprised at how brutal the story actually is.

Recent productions have placed the play in a more modern setting i.e. characters having iPods, Ben 10 bags etc.  Is this something you have done or considered?

Ben: I’m not sure whether the production team considered this but we have kept the props/staging quite minimalistic and plain. It’s certainly not set in today’s Playstation/Xbox/wifi world!  I feel that the story is accessible and relevant enough to all ages without the inclusion of modern technology or reference to current trends.

Is it difficult to inhabit the roles of such iconic characters?

Ben: Yes and no. I think all the actors in the cast know they have a big responsibility to ensure that they keep the essence of the characters the way in which William Golding intended but as with any text, the characters are very open to analysis and interpretation. It is very likely that two people can read the book/play and have a completely different idea about how a particular character behaves/walks/speaks/interacts with others etc.

            Daniel: All the other boys play 10/11 year olds, whereas Percival is 6/7 so personally playing so young has been a real challenge. In rehearsal we did a lot of improvisations, games, playing to take us back to that boyish childhood. It’s been a lot of fun discovering our young inner selves again.

The play contains many elements of threat and violence. Is it difficult (and exhausting!) to portray this on stage?

Ben: As a whole, the performance is very tiring both physically, owing to our very energetic concept and the nature of the play, and mentally because all the characters embark on huge emotional journeys. We have included several choreographed fight sequences, routines, tribal dances, transition pieces etc. which means the space is always animated. Whilst we are all aware of our own and each other’s safety, the movement pieces along with the text allow us all to ‘lose ourselves’ in the moment as much as possible. I think more than anything being able to lose control is a fun and exciting aspect of the play!

            Daniel: Well thought out choreography, constant rehearsal and working strongly as a cast has meant we tackled this in our stride. A good warm up is essential to avoid injury. Making these elements as real as possible I’d say is essential to the whole concept of the play.

With thanks to Sell A Door Theatre Company.  Lord of the Flies is in selected theatres now!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Interview with Vito Cannella - winner of the Golding Animation Competition

Vito Cannella was recently awarded first prize in the William Golding animation competition. Below Vito tells us about his video.

Vito Cannella
What is your background in digital media?

I have worked professionally as a New York City based freelance MultiMedia Artist since 1983, when I received a Bachelor of Fine Art Degree from The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, and intermittently with film/video as a personal interest, most recently focusing on moving images through Digital Media. I have a special Interest in Paleoanthropology and the Art/Science of Forensic Reconstruction based on fossil human remains, which I learned while employed for a time at The American Museum of Natural History.

What inspired you to base your video on The Inheritors?  Had you read the book prior to the competition?
 As I am intensely fascinated by the notion that dramatically different types of humans coexisted in the distant past, I was thrilled to discover a book on that subject by the author of "The Lord of the Flies" (perhaps, my favorite novel until then). I began reading it with rare anticipation and sadly, far too soon it seemed, I had turned the last page of my new favorite novel - "The Inheritors". Considering the rich dramatic potential, I eagerly embraced the opportunity to recount a small part of so great a tale. Hence, the resulting video.

Tell us about your video.
Based on the theme of the book, my video examines the compelling scenario in which gentle Neanderthals are confronted and displaced by hostile anatomically modern humans. Narrated extracts and scenes from the novel are presented along with associated visual images and contrasting Biblical references, including "Adam and Eve" (represented as Homo Erectus figures), that highlight contradictions between a belief system and attitude prevalent in modern western thought and a conjectural prehistoric culture and mythos attributed to the extinct humans portrayed in the story. The Idea of the patriarch God is contrasted with that of the matriarch Goddess, represented in the book by a small found wooden figure carried by "The People", as the characters refer to themselves, that resembles a female form, and in the video by a familiar icon of primitive Art; the archeological artifact known as the Venus of Wilendorf.

Apparently, the book title was inspired by the famous passage in the New Testament; "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth", which I cited toward the end of the video. Upon consulting my Bible, I noticed the preceding verse, "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted" and I was struck In that context, by the irony of the fact that evidently, the Neanderthals, who are the first Humans generally believed to have had the compassion to bury their dead, have disappeared beneath the proverbial sands of time, or at best, have been absorbed into the gene pool of the flood of evolutionary competition that overwhelmed them. This brought to mind simultaneously, the burial scene in "The Inheritors", and a group of sculptural figures that I had created some years ago depicting a Neanderthal burial site  (Shanidar Cave in Iraq) pictured in the video. Then, those figures reconstructed from long dead fossil bones came to life for me, imbued with the personalities of William Golding's characters, and I had a starting premise, or rather, a direction for an ending for my video. The beginning was provided by the words of the ancient patriarch Moses, that most ancient of patriarchs, Mal (a character in the book), the modern patriarch and Nobel Laureate, Sir William Gerald Golding, and the matriarch of his imagination; "The Great Oa".