Lord of the Flies (Sadler's Wells)
New Adventures and Re:Bourne have created a stunning dance interpretation of Golding's dark novel
Recruiting, rehearsing and auditioning up to 8,000 boys and young men with a view to them taking a part in a dance performance would be a task to make most companies quail. But this great achievement is the end result of Matthew Bourne's project to stage William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies.
Originally developed in Glasgow in 2011, the production is now on tour throughout the UK, featuring local performers selected from each region dancing alongside professionals from New Adventures. Many have been selected from the company's taster sessions because of their innate talent and enthusiasm – including a rugby player who didn't realise he could dance until a teacher suggested he take part in a workshop.
In Lord of the Flies a party of schoolboys crash land on a desert island, but this setting is translated into a cavernous backstage space, full of abandoned props and rickety staging in Lez Brotherston's ingenious design, where clothes rails can become forests or prisons, and a drum stick takes on the significance of the novel's conch shell in symbolising authority.
Composer Terry Davies' original score takes the boys from exuberant discovery of their surroundings and the glamour of the beaches, to the darkest cruelty that's uncovered in a world where there are no adults to intervene, and might is right. There's an Eno-esque quality to the dream sequence danced under the moon, and the whole soundscape is underpinned by Robin Mason's thrilling live cello.
Lighting is designed by Chris Davey, who uses spots, torches and everyone's fear of darkness to punctuate the slow descent into chaos.
Piggy is danced with great sympathy and emotion by original cast member Sam Plant. His brave attempts at maintaining a semblance of civilisation are crushed by Danny Reubens' Jack, whose strutting, muscular power perfectly demonstrates the evolution from class bully to murderous king of the island.
There's a beautiful, liquid grace to Layton Williams' interpretation of Simon, especially in his first solo where the boy struggles with failing health, and Williams is an outstanding performer throughout. The role of Ralph is danced by Sam Archer – the original Edward Scissorhands – whose panic-stricken flight from the hunters is a highlight of the show.
Directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne and Scott Ambler, Lord of the Flies has given a company of 24 youngsters the skills to look assured and exciting on stage, while the principals also have every opportunity to demonstrate their skills as soloists and in ensembles.
In Golding's novel, the rescuing naval officer surveys the chaotic scene and says he thought a pack of British boys "would have been able to put up a better show..."
It's hard to imagine how anyone could better this.