The cast in Lord of the Flies
The cast of Lord of the Flies
© Johan Persson

William Golding's classic tale of descent into savagery has received an update. This is LOTF1.1: the garters are gone and instead we're riding the banter bus. Where once rescue was impossible due to nuclear war, now it's primarily because there's no 3G to upload our desert island selfies.

It's a somewhat unconvincing attempt to bring the tale into the 21st century, and all the more so because a story of such intensity needs no dumbing down. The moments of strength in this production, of which there are many, are often where the action speaks for itself, through the superbly controlled physicalisation of the conflict between the boys and the use of shocking visual contrasts.

The characters lack definition at times, and Ralph (Luke Ward-Wilkinson) displays little of the gravitas that makes him a natural choice for chief, but Nigel Williams' script plays with some interesting themes. Jack's intolerance of Piggy seems rooted very firmly in class prejudice, and his justification for murder, not quite taken from the original text, is discomfiting in its real life parallels.

The standout performance is by Matthew Castle as Roger, whose inherent cruelty is emphasised by his almost inhuman ability to bound about the stage as an omnipresent demon tormentor. Under Timothy Sheader's direction he is wicked in his actions and yet obsequious to his master: a nod to those committing merciless atrocities beneath the flimsy cover of a Just War.

John Bausor's set, in which the smoking fuselage of the plane doubles as both playground and warzone, enables the cast to show both the initial exuberance of youth and the more sinister, territorial behaviour of barbarians. By Act 2, when much clothing has been discarded and bodies are streaked with blood and dirt, the jungle setting is continually unnerving. The savages lurk, often barely visible, wielding fire and chanting in eerie unison. The Y fronts and war paint do little to relieve the terror.

Modernised or not, this is a powerful and often disturbing piece which highlights how fragile our structures of civilisation are. In contrast to our current jungle entertainment of Bear Grylls et al, this serves as a timely reminder that, without laws, rules or camera crews, the wilderness within is the hardest to navigate.

Lord of the Flies runs at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton until 3 October, after which it embarks on a UK tour.