Wednesday 26 October 2016

A captivating tale of chaos on a desert island

The opening scenes of this play, made me expect something great, and great is what I got, writes our reviewer

Christopher Jackson

Published 19/10/2015 | 02:30

Lost: Lord of the Flies is superb and gripping.
Lost: Lord of the Flies is superb and gripping.

In the shadow of the trees, among the tossed suitcases, is the smashed tail of a jet liner. Smoke drifts off its broken wing. It's like the opening scene of Lost, but it's not a multi-million dollar TV series, it's the incredibly impressive stage set of the most recent theatrical production of Lord of the Flies. The sheer presence of it, with all its intricate details, made me expect something great, and great is what I got.

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Made up of a cast of very young male actors, the Regent's Park Theatre's touring production, which is coming to the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in November, is a highly energetic and modern take on William Golding's 1954 classic book, which despite popular modern culture references (including group selfies) stays pretty true to the original text.

For those who haven't got round to reading it yet (what else have you been doing?), Lord of the Flies is the story of a group of British schoolboys who survive a plane crash and wake to find themselves stranded on a desert island. Many of them believe that Britain has been destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. To survive they decide there must be a leader, and elect the kind, optimistic and sometimes manic Ralph. He leads by reason and hope, and believes they'll be rescued. He's aided by the overweight Piggy. Piggy's constantly bullied and Ralph is his only friend and confidant. Despite the bullying, Piggy perseveres to bring some sense of sanity and civility to an utterly chaotic situation.

But with no adults around things quickly start to fall part. Some of the boys, led by the cruel and sadistic Jack, form their own group. Jack, unlike Ralph, leads by hearsay and fear. They become obsessed with the island's 'beast', and as their obsession grows, the less human and more beastly they become. As Ralph and Piggy's group try to keep their humanity, Jack's gradually loses theirs. They devolve to a primeval state, shedding their clothes, painting their faces, and using violence to get what they want. Increasing tension between the groups leads to conflict, and with tragic results.

I was sceptical beforehand. I love the book but I found the 1963 film adaptation humdrum and the 1990 one forgettable (I only remembered it when researching this production). The idea that a play could be any better was not one this cinema buff had much belief in.

Piggy, played with a thick, lyrical Northern accent by the excellent Anthony Roberts, is a compelling character, and Roberts captures beautifully the isolation of a decent and sane boy in an indecent and insane world. He has real chemistry with the impressive Luke Ward-Wilkinson, who plays Ralph and who puts in a performance full of nuance as his character's innocence and optimism is gradually chipped away at. The rest of the cast put in good performances and used the set to great effect; running, climbing and clambering over it with young, lithe energy. But it's Freddie Watkins as Jack, who rivals Roberts's performance most. LOTF is not just a simple morality tale, it's a class one too and Watkins as the arrogant, toffish and utterly deplorable Jack is the perfect foil to Roberts' Piggy.

Right from the surreal opening, when a lost Ward-Wilkinson emerged from the smoke of the wreckage, carrying a model ship I was in, as were the rest of the audience. LOTF is well-paced and superbly scored but above all it had what I wanted most, it kept my attention throughout. Full of moments of real humour, shock and tension, I can't recommend this play enough, both to lovers of the original and not.

Lord of the Flies runs at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre from November 24 to 28 or

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