For some, Lord of the Flies is held in high regard as a literary masterpiece within the classic novel canon. For others, the mere mention of it evokes memories of school classrooms, revision guides and exam essay questions on human brutality, sending shivers down the spine. Renowned for their inventive, award-winning productions Regent’s Park Theatre’s adaptation has garnered wide acclaim since its original sell-out performance in 2011 so, could this retelling of Golding’s challenging study of human nature break away from the endless discussion and analysis and breathe new life into the story?
First impressions are excellent: Jon Bausor’s stunning set comprising of the wrecked fuselage of an airplane lying on a bed of scattered luggage debris, certainly gives the 'wow' factor on entering the auditorium. Combined with atmospheric lighting from flickering emergency exit lights and a subtle rumbling soundtrack; this is a desolate yet cluttered setting; full of uncertainty and impending danger and with it comes that thrilling sense that you are about to witness a truly theatrical spectacle.
The performances are strong across the board with the young company evidently giving their all in a highly energetic and physically demanding performance. The skill and dedication to the performances are inscrutable. Kate Waters’ complicated fight choreography and the general movement direction is stunning; particularly when blending together scenes happening simultaneously on different parts of the island. And, bringing in contemporary references – including a selfie stick and 3G – adds a worrying realism to the violence portayed. Yet sadly, the early promise is short-lived and all too often the set and lighting design draw the attention more than the action onstage.
The problem lies in the overall rhythm of the show. Although far from lacking in pace; the production races along so quickly that it is sometimes too chaotic to follow. As a snapshot of laddish behaviour turned to gang warfare it succeeds, but it lacks enough moments of light and shade which allow the audience to compute and reflect on the key dramatic moments or enables tension to build. Instead of shocking and disturbing, the almost constant bombardment of noise and chaos numbs the audience and consequently any connection and empathy with the characters is reduced.
This stems from the early moments of the production, where the script barely allows for basic character development of each individual before launching into the fight action. With only sparse introductions to cling to, the audience struggle to form any attachment with the boys in the story. Those who are given more early development stand out and there are strong, engaging performances from Anthony Roberts (Piggy), Keenan Munn-Francis (Simon) and Freddie Watkins (a brilliantly repulsive Jack), while David Evans steals the show as tiny Perceval taking refuge with his teddy bear in a suitcase. Yet there are others on stage giving as much of a committed performance who, unfortunately, become lost in the melee. This is perhaps intentional in demonstrating the loss of identity that comes to the boys as the play develops, yet without the initial establishing of all of the characters in the first instance, the effect is unclear and loses its impact.
Any staging of this disturbing tale is never going to provide a cheerful evening at the theatre but the promise of a gripping drama, a superb setting and the colossal effort by the company onstage here is unfortunately let down by flaws in the script and direction. It is a production not without merit, and would no doubt be of benefit to anyone currently studying the text, but go without analysis in mind.
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