Greenwich Theatre, London – until 24 March 2018
Lazarus Theatre continues its residence at Greenwich Theatre with Nigel Williams’ adaptation of William Golding’s novel, Lord of the Flies, directed by Ricky Dukes (the company’s artistic director). An allegorical tale of futile, and increasingly bloody, attempts to govern on a small island seems like an incredibly apt one to be telling at this particular time – and done in typically bold Lazarus style, it makes for a thrilling night out.
A group of boys from a variety of schools have been left stranded on an island following a plane crash; they were being evacuated to protect them from the war that was surrounding them at home. At first, they try to work democratically, electing Ralph as their leader rather than bowing to Jack Merridew and his sense of entitlement, and holding meetings; whoever holds a large conch they found on the beach is allowed to speak.
However, when Ralph allows Merridew and some other choir boys to form a group of hunters things start to spiral out of control. With the threat of the “beast” looming over them, and the hunters’ primitive urges increasing, will they all survive?
Golding’s novel may have been published in 1954, and presumably influenced in part by the recently concluded Second World War (as well as the ongoing threat of future nuclear war), but its themes could not be more relevant to the world in which we live today.
As well as faraway countries being turned into battlefields, we continue to live under the shadow of potential nuclear warfare from all angles – and even Brexit is inescapable, as the new islanders stumble around in the dark trying to work out how to govern while they’re cut off from grown-ups.
You also can’t help but see a typical public school Tory in Merridew, who tries to use his perceived status to take control of the whole group. The insight into the fallibility of human nature is incredible, acknowledging that generally good people can do bad things; this particular production demonstrates the seductive power of the hunters’ dances over Ralph & Piggy, with some fantastic choreography to tribal-influenced music (Nicola Chang).
The stage is sparse, but a combination of ingenious lighting design from Ben Jacobs and interesting directing choices from Dukes (having the actors run in and out through the audience makes it a more visceral and enveloping experience) means not too much in the way of a set and props is actually needed. The story is at the forefront, told in an unflinchingly physical and confrontational style.
Obviously the original book tells the story of a group of just boys, however this production has split the roles between male and female actors. This is great in terms of opportunities for actors, as it gives people the chance to play parts they previously wouldn’t have been able to play – but I wonder if it might have added something a bit more in terms of the production itself had those roles been made female, simply by amending the pronouns. (The names wouldn’t necessarily have to change.) It’s just one little missed opportunity in an otherwise thought-provoking production.
Overall the acting is outstanding from this talented ensemble. Nell Hardy & Calvin Crawley are in sync as the double act (of sorts) Sam & Eric, and Benjamin Victor sensitively portrays the probably epileptic Simon. Nick Cope is belligerent and quite terrifying as Jack Merridew, showing how easy it is to be corrupted by power and bloodlust. It’s Amber Wadey who really stands out, taking on the central role of Ralph – she embodies the innocence and naïvety of the group, finding the strength to lead and make difficult decisions.