Greenwich Theatre, London – until 24 March 2018
Ralph’s a woman! Whoa! One of the drawbacks to supporting modern ideas about gender fluidity in the theatre is that it can be confusing for some parts of the audience who, until now, were thinking along traditional lines.
There you are, learning Lord of the Flies for a set text at school, and a visit to the theatre can change your entire way of looking at the story. A student sitting in front of me was totally blown away by the gender-neutral casting.
Lazarus Theatre continues its year-long residency at London’s Greenwich Theatre with a visceral and engaging new production of William Golding’s story of survival and supremacy. Adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams, and directed with real verve by Ricky Dukes, the production sees some key parts from the original all-male story, given to female actors.
This could, in theory, throw sex into the mix, along with its social and moral themes. Given how quickly this group of survivors descend into primitive savagery, surely rape would be yet another weapon with which to dominate? But Dukes shies away from the argument by suppressing sexual overtones and casting the five female actors in male roles.
Chief protagonist, the optimistic Ralph, is now played by an animated Amber Wadey. Couldn’t she have become Raf, an air crash survivor from a girl’s school? If you haven’t read the book then there are some moments in the play that will baffle. The big money shot, as far as shock scenes are concerned, will be lost on anyone coming to the production with fresh eyes.
In fact, and I’m not revealing what happens, Dukes wastes the impact of the moment by the speed with which it is served up. You’ll miss it entirely if you’re reaching into your bag for a cough sweet or glancing down, as I was at that precise second, to check a name in the programme. But the lady in the seat next to me jumped about a foot in the air, so, eyes peeled for a super-swift shocker.
Golding wrote Lord of the Flies after witnessing the horror of World War Two when too many people were forced to forget about civilised behaviour and behave with extreme barbarity and violence.
War made savages out of entire countries.
This production starts off with some superbly choreographed tribal dancing which gives you some idea as to where it’s heading.
The heavy rhythmic beat and naked aggression from a bunch of surly youths wearing hoodies and attitude, leaves you in no doubt that any trace of civilised society has been left outside the auditorium.
There’s almost no set – a few chairs and an odd sheet of plastic are the only props – and the drama relies very much on its characters, who, with well chosen words to discover which school each came from, immediately establish class structure.
A group of boys are evacuated by plane and sent off in search of sanctuary.
But it crashes on a desert island and the young survivors, who have no adult supervision, must learn how to cope alone.
It doesn’t take long before old-style social concepts of decency, democracy and convention, are forgotten as attempts to govern themselves goes disastrously wrong.
Poor Piggy doesn’t have anything going for him. He’s fat, sedentary, myopic, asthmatic and weak. The archetypal victim from the wrong sort of school.
No wonder then that he is bullied by almost everyone, including the essentially decent Ralph.
Ralph tries to hold everything together but he’s thwarted by public schoolboy, Jack Merrydew, who uses his hunting skills to round up supporters and head into the hills in search of food.
Inevitably the children must pick sides. To become spear-carrying hunters, enjoying tracking and slaughtering animals, or be jolly good eggs and know how to organise a public meeting.
Brains or brawn? Which would you choose if your survival depended on it?
Moral dilemmas aside Nick Cope is impressively intimidating as the Alpha male, Jack. He’s very effective in demonstrating how easily humanity can resort to barbarism when normal social structures are abandoned.
Luke MacLeod, as the bumbling Piggy, and Benjamin Victor’s intellectual Simon are both well played.
Some scenes are repetitive and lacking finesse, the cast shouting their lines as emotions rise, but that’s okay. You wouldn’t expect politeness and decorum when you’re fighting for you life.
Dukes makes full use of the entire auditorium with cast members appearing from the back of the stalls and making a camp in the wing seats.
And the production’s impressive lighting and sound (from Ben Jacobs and Nicola Chang respectively) transforms an essentially empty stage into something incredibly atmospheric and menacing.
Dark, thrilling and intense, another hit from Lazarus.