Guest reviewer: Ellen Casey
The Lord of the Flies feels like it needs very little introduction; it’s such an iconic, oft-adapted text that when I went to see this particular performance at Greenwich Theatre, there was a gaggle of schoolchildren sitting alongside me in the theatre. Of course there were – they study it in school.
Just in case you’ve never had any exposure though – like me actually – it follows the trials and tribulations of a group of schoolchildren (not unlike those a couple rows behind me) after they crash-land on a remote island, and start a descent from civilisation to savagery.
One thing I usually instantly look for, and am often disappointed by, is staging – duly, walking into the theatre and seeing just a line of orange chairs, my stomach sank a little. However, my stomach spoke too soon; the staging is sparse, but for an excellent reason – it’s a dance space.
I really can’t overstate how insanely great the choreography is in this production; it is such an incredible bonus that I know if I ever see another performance of Lord of the Flies without it, I will actively mourn its absence. It is purposeful, bestial, and above all communicative of the mood and atmosphere – it connects. In fact the electric opening is one of the best introductions to a production I’ve ever seen.
There’s a cinematic feeling engendered across the board by the directorial choices here. Smoke often billows across the stage during a scene, which I usually find a little unnecessary, but here serves an interesting purpose; it’s a literal smoke-screen, forcibly transitioning our attention to elsewhere on the stage. Perspective is also used well, for a similar purpose – at times Piggy sits alone, dangling his legs over the front of the stage as the action happens, elevated on chairs, behind him. It’s a simple device but it splits a large empty stage into two clear settings. It opens up action that could feel flat, which is impressive.
The whole theatre is used as well – children creep down the aisles, build shelters in unused seats, and loll around menacingly in front of the stage. It serves to create an immersive feeling, despite the large ensemble cast. That large cast is a potential problem – for the production to work a lot of performances have to be pitched exactly right; the charisma of Ralph, the lovability of Piggy, the perfect storm villainry of Jack. Luckily all three, and the supporting cast, bounce off and support each other with ease, involving you in the tribal, snobbish squabbles.
Lord of the Flies was originally written in 1954, and this production doesn’t take too many liberties with the setting or language. It’s antiquated in some ways – the characters refer to each other as ‘chap’ for example, and it’s plain from references to bombs in England that it’s set during the Second World War. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have relevant things to say about class division and mob rule; the references to bombs even feel like they have a jarring mirrored feeling – referencing, yes, the Blitz, but also the present situation we find ourselves in. One of the children, Roger, at one point shrugs off the possibility of rescue by adults – he reasons that the adults are too busy blowing each other up to worry about them.
There are some modern touches added, but not too many to be invasive to the overall feel of the play; Roger at one point advocates for ‘strong and stable’ leadership, which draws a ripple of laughter from the audience, and there is the occasional small shock of strong language that feels at odds with the rest of the language. It’s a choice, but it makes very little impact on the story either way. My personal favourite of these small modernisms was the entrance of the choir, as they came crashing down the aisle singing Man’s Not Hot; appropriate for a South London performance.
My verdict? An explosive, relevant production, that I will probably be seeing again.
Lord of the Flies runs at Greenwich Theatre until 30 March 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.
(Previously reviewed in 2018 by Debbie Gilpin)