Lord of the Flies

Our critics rating: 
Wednesday, 1 June, 2011
Review by: 
Peter Brown

First published in 1954, William Golding's novel must be one of the best known, and most widely read books thanks to its widespread use in schools and exams. It's the literature that many of us were brought up on, so we know this story almost inside out. And that presents a huge challenge for anyone who is going to render it into a stage version, because we not only know the plot and the characters, but we also have our own vision of what it should be like.

Following in the footsteps of two film versions, the Open Air Theatre is the near-perfect setting for a plot that takes place in what many people would regard as an idyllic location. But Jon Bausor's brilliant design doesn't just rely on the natural jungle-like qualities of Regent's Park, it goes way beyond the call of duty. Laid out in front of us is a staggering scene of devastation with what seems like half a plane dominating the set, with a huge engine smouldering off to the left and another nestling right in the midst of the audience.

The design may be terrifically impressive, but the enormous piles of luggage thrown from the plane on impact with the land, betray modern times. And sometimes the boys refer to each other as 'guys' yet their speech patterns make them sound like they've just come direct from a public school of the 1940s. Though the time-frame seems indistinct, it actually doesn't grate too much or hamper the development of either the story or its powerful message.

Amazingly, the actors seem generally younger than their true chronological ages. Well, I was certainly fooled for quite a while. But there are times when their repetitive gestures and actions don't always convince that they are in their early teens. That aside, George Bukhari makes an excellent Piggy and Alistair Toovey as Ralph and James Clay as Jack wrestle from the start for control of this rag-tag band of middle-class juveniles. Alistair Toovey's Ralph is an energetic, likeable lad with both intelligence and a well-defined sense of decency. But that doesn't stop him being caught-up in the chanting and macabre dance that leads to Simon's murder. On the other hand, James Clay's Jack is vocally dominant and power-hungry from the start with an unstoppable craving for absolute authority. And it's clear that these two will have to slog it out, however much Ralph may want to play by the rules. When the inevitable fight ensues, it's a frantic battle which rages on the beech as Piggy is killed from the cliff above.

The first half is the weaker of the two mostly because the pacing is rather too even, with the mood and dynamics focused largely on one rather than multiple levels, or varying dimensions. But the dramatic volume is romped up in the second half as civilisation is abandoned and unbridled savagery takes over, leaving the dramatic crescendo where it rightly belongs.

Tackling a production of this kind is a remarkably brave undertaking, but we're getting used to that kind of approach from the Open Air Theatre's artistic director, Timothy Sheader, who also directs here. In spite of the minor inconsistencies, the overall effect is frighteningly real, especially in the second half where the intensity builds into unqualified terror aided by the darkening skies and the atmospheric music which has echoes of the medieval. In spite of my reservations, it's obvious that Mr Sheader's approach has been to remain faithful to Golding's original and in that he forcefully succeeds, producing a finely-crafted but disturbing depiction of the primitive, distasteful forces which lurk just beneath the surface of the human psyche.


Rather clunky at the outset...the action feels both too swift emotionally and too slow dramatically...But in the second half it gathers intensity and builds to a hair-raising climax, terrifically handled by Sheader and his impressive young cast."
Sarah Hemming for The Financial Times

"Guaranteed to grip older children and adults alike from start to finish, Timothy Sheader’s staging of Lord of the Flies, which opens the summer season at the Open Air Theatre, is nothing less than a triumph ."
Dominic Cavendish for The Daily Telegraph

"The awkward truth is that the play, in Nigel Williams's classic 1995 adaptation, struggles to live up to the brilliance of its set...The young actors, many making professional debuts, are ceaselessly energetic and can hardly be held responsible if Williams struggles to convey the passing of time"
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard

"The updated setting is unwise, the boys' descent into barbarity is only partially convincing – but when they get there, the production musters a genuinely disturbing power."
Brian Logan for The Guardian

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