Posted by: Richard Frost | 6 Apr 2020

Pilot Theatre Company: Lord of the Flies review

Logo of award-winning student magazine Durham21Original publication date: February 2005
Outlet: Durham21

Richard Frost finds William Golding’s novel is more relevant than ever as its 50th anniversary is commemorated with a Gala performance

Anniversaries of famous books are usually fairly innocuous occasions. The book is praised, its author eulogised and it often undergoes an uncontroversial and stiflingly faithful adaptation for film or theatre. Such is the background for William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, first published 50 years ago and now revived at Gala Theatre as part of Pilot Theatre Company’s 100-date British tour.

Yet Lord of the Flies is not the easiest candidate for a tame, mediocre reworking. Thrusting a group of schoolchildren onto a desert island and showing their inevitable collapse into anarchy, Golding’s seminal debut novel became the darkest and most chilling statement of mankind’s inherent evil from the WWII generation.

Industrial Strength
Thankfully, Marcus Romer’s direction emphasises this darkness instead of belittling its importance in an edgy, contemporary version of the novel.

It’s an edginess that immediately strikes the audience as the opening plane crash is accompanied by startlingly intense industrial noise. Sandy Nuttgen’s original score lays down a powerful but effective marker for the show’s tone; it’s always a daring idea to accompany a classic novel with fiercely contemporary music, yet here it worked brilliantly to emphasise both the unsettling terror of the production and its continuing relevance.

However, this music merely set the tone for the bitter rivalry that dominated proceedings, skilfully brought to life by actors Andrew Falvey and Alan Park. Playing Ralph and Jack respectively, the pair effectively represent the alternative political creeds of democratic pacifism and war-mongering totalitarianism.

Democracy v Totalitarianism
In the democratic camp, Falvey was an excellent choice as the reluctant tribal chief Ralph.

His monologues and nervous smile brilliantly captured the internal conflict as he struggled to reconcile his belief in human equality with the children’s innate need for leadership. Falvey’s development was cleverly represented in his increasing sympathy for the outcast Piggy, who trod the fine line between being admirable and irritating in Jesse Inman’s subtle portrayal.

Unquestionably though, the most eye-catching performance showcased Jack’s descent from obnoxious choirmaster to cruel and sadistic dictator. Park’s trademark sneer throughout the production emphasised that his evil traits were evident from the outset; Golding’s character is no demonic and sinister freak then, but merely a man increasingly able to fulfil his darkest fantasies.

Promotional image for Pilot Theatre Company's Lord of the Flies production

It was a believable portrayal of mankind’s inherent evil – cleverly symbolised by his progression from disturbing face-painting with pig blood to assisting in the terrifying murder of Piggy himself. But despite his horrific actions, it’s a testament to Park’s acting skill that his charismatic presence continued to enrapture the audience even as events spiralled out of control.

Mirroring the boys onstage, he became a timely warning of the dangerous appeal of authoritarian leaders.

A Buddhist Christ?
The dominance of the Ralph v Jack conflict inevitably marginalises Golding’s other themes but, surprisingly, this was barely noticeable – apart from one key element.

The role of Simon, ably played by Mitesh Soni, was perhaps a lost opportunity in Nigel Williams’ adaptation. His Buddhist roots are initially mocked by the other characters to seemingly add contemporary relevance, and yet its implications are never fully explored. Less forgivably, his Christ-like traits in the novel are actively eradicated to seemingly fit this new non-Christian role.

Consequently, Simon’s exploration of an alternative political philosophy built upon nature and Christian sympathy is ignored by the production, as Williams partially corrupts Golding’s message.

All too Relevant
Still, Lord of the Flies was unquestionably a successful adaptation.

Indeed, the claustrophobia of the small island lends itself well to the congested confines of the stage – a claustrophobia enhanced by the set. From the initial crash to the mountain fire and Piggy’s fatal fall, this set proved surprisingly versatile in recreating the varied locations of the novel, and created a truly memorable spectacle.

Furthermore, the plane wreckage excellently complemented the industrial music to symbolise Golding’s “long scar smashed into the jungle”, in which humanity threatens the idyllic natural world. As a metaphor for man’s inherent self-destructiveness, it proved a fittingly dark backdrop to the clash between Ralph and Jack.

Ultimately, the stylish set helped draw attention to the key motif of Man v Nature, whilst Ralph and Jack furthermore explored the conflict of Democracy v Totalitarianism, Peace v War and Good v Evil – themes that are perhaps more relevant for modern audiences than for any generation since the 1950s.


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