Wow! What an incredible and exciting experience, a breathtaking production of what is potentially a depressing tale of bullying, class prejudice and descent into savagery. The play is, of course, based on William Golding's classic 1954 novel, adapted by Nigel Williams. Storywise, the stage version sticks closely to the original text, but my how this Pilot Theatre production, directed by Marcus Romer, makes those pages come alive.
An aeroplane loaded with evacuee boys is marooned on a desert island. No adults are left alive, but amongst the child survivors are sensitive but impressionable Ralph (Glyn Morgan), bespectacled asthmatic Piggy (Neville Hutton), and Jack Merridew (Philip Dinsdale) choir-school group leader still in uniform.
The struggles between these three very different characters begin early. In an attempt to bring order to the island, Piggy urges the others to hold a meeting to elect a leader and make 'rules' like a proper civilised society. But not only is Piggy fat and unpopular, his accent doesn't quite fit and he doesn't go the 'right' school - why should anyone listen to him? He becomes the butt of the sneering Jack and his cronies. The meeting quickly degenerates into a 'whose is biggest' contest, although they do manage to loosely agree that Piggy's choice Ralph should be leader.
The chaos of a meeting is just a portent of things to come. As time passes and civilised society breaks down further, Jack and his gang become savage hunters, and not only of the wild pigs on the island. They create Lord of the Flies, a pig's head on a stick, which terrifies the spiritual Simon (Neville Robinson) into a frightening, dangerous flight.
The hard-working cast turn in some superb performances. Particularly strong are Neville Hutton as Piggy and Philip Dinsdale as Jack. It's important to feel sympathy for Piggy, especially when he meets his fateful end, and Hutton evokes those responses from the audience. But he also captures the geeky whininess of the character, which makes it easy to understand why his peers ostracise him. For his part, Dinsdale continually ups the ante with Jack, who becomes more and more frenzied as he gives into total bloodlust.
The set (care of Ali Allen and Marise Rose) cleverly makes use of plane wreckage for quick scene changes. And Sandy Nuttgens's original music and sound design provide a powerful backdrop to the stunning visuals, with the pleasant daytime noises replaced by more sinister bumps and caws in the night.
This Lord of the Flies is king of the hill - well worth the price of a ticket.
- Val Bennion (reviewed at The Lowry in Salford)