Alex Cohen is intrigued but uncertain about DST and Gala Theatre’s production of Lord of the Flies.
Annie Rigby’s production of Nigel Williams’ adaption of Lord of the Flies is a challenge; the creative team have an uphill struggle when it comes to bringing it to the Gala Theatre, due to the script being stunted and underdeveloped – the writing has as much excitement as being stuck in long traffic jam: it never feels like it’s going anywhere and when there is discernible progress it has already stopped dead in its tracks.
Despite this, the production does occasionally manage to conjure the atmosphere that made the original so revered. The creative team try their best: one particularly visually arresting moment saw Jack’s band of savages hunting for the estranged Ralph on a creatively designed and utilised set gushing with colours, but was brutally undermined by the line: ‘it’s so dark I can’t see my own dick’ which elicited laughter rather than the gasps of horror that were supposedly intended.
As difficult as it can be to work with such a script, some performers portrayed nuanced characters: Cameron Ashplant’s melancholic Ralph provided a sense of concrete authority in contrast to Layla Chowdhury (Jack), who channelled a more immature command through her childish physicality over the other castaways. This made for some engaging power struggles between the two, which were unfortunately few and far between as many other characters were reduced to cardboard cut-outs spouting predictably tiresome dialogue. Despite the whole ensemble’s clear dedication to capturing that adolescent hyperactivity and energy (something that must be highly commended), there simply weren’t enough of these moments to redeem the show. The same goes for John Broadhead’s Piggy, who never managed to create the pathos that makes his death so poignant.
With that said, the underutilised sound design didn’t do much to help the missing atmosphere; there were many small silences that left the audience unconvinced that the play was taking place on an island paradise despite the aforementioned aesthetically interesting set which provided many instances of creative movement that successfully conveyed a power dynamic within the group.
Any stage adaptation of a book must be able to justify its being – what does it bring to the table? Why not just read the book? This is made even more pertinent when that book is so esteemed and popular; Lord of the Flies is indeed a classic. This version, however, struggles to illuminate a new aspect of the story and only seems to want to give a condensed version of the book that sacrifices the aspects of the original that made it such a gripping read: seeing the dead pilot fall from the rafters immediately nullifies any sense of mystery or fear that was created in the original. In essence, the play is fundamentally flawed, despite versatile direction and all-around strong performances.
With that said, the director’s note seems to suggest that this narrative’s comment on the ‘fragility of democracy’ has become even more relevant given the current British political climate, perhaps justifying the production’s existence. While I am not a fan of either leader, the suggestion that Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are some kind of animalistic savages (implied through the playing of recordings from parliament played in the closing moments) willing to kill each other in a heartbeat seems a bit farfetched. What is intriguing about this political commentary (albeit in the darkest of ways) is the implication that there is some sort of Super-Ego-figure-of-authority, who will appear at the final moment to return us back to civilisation, just when we have abandoned all hope. If only…
Lord of the Flies will be playing at the Gala Theatre from 1st – 5th October at 7:30pm. Tickets are available at: https://www.galadurham.co.uk/galapost/lord-of-the-flies/
1st October 2019