There are obvious difficulties in staging Lord of the Flies, William Golding’s novel about boys isolated on a desert island in a failed evacuation from a future war and the ensuing struggle between civilisation and savagery. The setting at various places on a mountainous island presents a design challenge; the story requires a large number of boys of ages from around 13 to the smallest of “littluns”; the major players have to be simultaneously well brought up British boys and violent savages (or their desperate victims), a balancing act more easily achievable on the page or on radio than on stage.
This re-working, in association with York Theatre Royal, of Pilot Theatre’s acclaimed production of 10 years ago seems to me to triumph over only the first of these problems. The design (by Ali Allen and Marise Rose) is both visually arresting and practical. Broken chunks of the aeroplane that brought the boys to the island prove infinitely adaptable as mountain, hut or bridge. James Farncombe’s lighting and Sandy Nuttgens’ music also help to create moments of genuine drama and tension, though the unrelieved gloom and relentless underscoring can prove oppressive.
Nigel Williams’ adaptation and Marcus Romer’s direction are committed to one actor-one part. One solitary littlun makes a single appearance and the actors playing the two dead boys become the rescuing soldiers. Otherwise the eight actors serve as Ralph, Piggy and Simon, in different ways the voices of goodness and reason, Jack the tribal chief with his two lieutenants Roger and Maurice, and the well-intentioned, but hapless, twins Sam’n’Eric. There is thus no sense of the increasing numerical power of the tribe or the hysteria that sweeps through the group: the sensible ones are always in a majority.
Casting young adult actors exacerbates the existing dichotomy between schoolboys and savages. In the programme Nigel Williams states that the actors are older than in the original Stratford production of his adaptation. Doubtless this is in response to the rigours of an 18-venue tour, but the results are unconvincing, in the cases of Piggy and Simon dangerously close to self-parody and melodrama, respectively. Davood Ghadami is more believable as Ralph, taking full advantage of the adaptation’s few quiet moments, brief monologues direct from the novel, mostly dwelling on past happiness and security.
There is no shortage of vigorous and athletic movement (directed by Hannah Priddle) over the wonderful adventure playground of the stricken aeroplane, but somehow drama is lacking.