WHAT an interesting play to come from Kings Ely Junior’s Years 7 and 8! Although the book went out of fashion in the English classroom several decades ago, it has become extremely topical again.
Ideas of what civilisation entails, how important our social constructs are, whether democracy is a fantasy, what human nature encompasses – these concepts and more are there in the novel’s plot and explicitly or implicitly in this dramatic adaptation by Nigel Williams. All have re-emerged to the forefront of our lives in the wars and brutalities which modern media has unsparingly shown on our screens large and small.
So there was worrying scope for hyper-realistic amounts of mud and gore. Yet while the makeup team had been active, Laura Dixon (Director) skilfully achieved the important messages and effects by other means. Dramatic energy and pace from the actors and stylised dance interludes from the Physical Ensemble (Dominic Kindleysides, Aidan Meikle, William Kirkup, Tatiana Hazelwood, Edith Thompson and Beth Coppin) provided all we needed to feel the escalating fear and savagery.
The interludes of movement performed the function of a classical Greek Chorus, providing a form of commentary on the plot and heightening emotion in a visual form, often accompanied by non-verbal, primal vocalisation, always executed with impressive precision.
Another classical echo was the visual spectacle of the hunters, spears raised, moving stealthily and rapidly on the raised walkway, in silhouette against sulphurous back-lighting – vividly reminiscent of Greek vases. Or, even better, of the Palaeolithic cave paintings of Lascaux from 20,000 years ago – primitive indeed. A stroke of genius! Congratulations to James Lane for this and the magnificent lighting throughout, and for the clever set framed on one side by part of the crashed plane and on the other part of the tailfin with its union jack suggestive of wartime empire, institutions, rules and ‘fairness’.
The discipline of the actors was evident from even before the start. As we came into the Hayward Theatre, the stage was open for our inspection. The bodies of the actors, often in contorted positions, were scattered realistically. They remained utterly motionless for at least five minutes, such that I began to wonder whether they were extras. However, when the lights went down, they gradually came to. Rubbing of limbs was probably not acting!
The whole production was a magnificent team effort. It felt a unified whole, in which all the actors fully understood the message of the play and their place in the narrative as it unfolded. Ralph (Paolo Lawrence) and Jack (Lili-Rose Merrifield) had mastered a huge number of words, and Piggy (Rose Tisi) and Simon (John Wilden) appreciated the significance and complexity of their characters without overstating them. They both played their roles with great maturity and confidence.
The Twins, Sam and Eric (Heath Williams and Edward Lacey) were convincing and showed beautiful comic timing when guarding the fire on the mountain whilst fearful of the Beast. Speaking of which, the swaying airman (with skeletal bones and swaying long, black draperies) looked appropriately scary in this night-time sighting. Similarly, the wild boar was a splendid creation, carried on triumphantly with its legs tied on a pole and his head swiftly detached and stuck on a pole – an execution that warned of further ‘hunting’ to come.
Jack, as he continually reminded us, was the choir prefect and therefore the natural choice leader. Lili-Rose played her character as a feisty spitfire who outshouted any opposition; she employed throughout a dictator’s fortissimo, declaratory style as if to vast crowds, though perhaps a little variety of tone would have provided more light-and-shade. However, she had clearly worked out her character and was consistently true to it throughout.
The choristers, Roger (Jodi Newell), Henry (Quentin Mitchell), Maurice (Imogen Ryan) and Bill (Maxime Price), were all fully individualised characters, sometimes daring to mock their leader with schoolchild imitations before cowering under Jack’s withering onslaught. Their use of the stage was confident and they kept in role all the time, helping us to distinguish the children when all were in school uniform.
By contrast, Ralph, the original leader, was the more liberal-minded boy who despite his best efforts could not ever be the grown-up he wanted and needed to be. Paolo achieved a fully rounded character, displaying civilised instincts at the outset with his meetings (with the conch) and his forethought about rescue, but understandably also inexperienced and fallible, betraying Piggy’s name at the outset to gain popularity and unable to withstand the force of numbers against him as the play progressed. Paolo’s despair at the end was utterly believable.
The ending is ironic rather than a solution, and the adaptation does not make it very clear that the fire that was spotted was out-of-control, not the orderly signal organised by Ralph. The extremely spick and span naval officers (Lucy Novick and Oliver Stirrup), resplendent in gleaming white lighting, restored order instantly and in the nick of time. However, they were completely oblivious of the contributory causes of the children’s dishevelment or the nature of the terrifying ‘game’ of the children in front of them and had no intention of bothering to find out. Stiff upper lip and all that.
Many congratulations to Laura Dixon for a superb production and for proving that gender neutral casting works perfectly when the actors fully understand and project their characters, to all the talented cast, to the many staff and pupils involved with movement, props, stage management, lighting/ sound, set construction, costumes, front of house, custodians and everyone involved in a truly memorable production. Thank you all.