Ingenious and engrossing
By Tania Herbert
The audience enters the theatre to a construction-like muddle of a set and a cacophony of shouts, breaking glass and general mayhem, with the only light on stage being an ominous metal doorway, from which the shouts and smoke emanate.
The Australian premier of Matthew Bourne and Scott Ambler’s adaptation of Lord of the Flies starts with a literal bang – and we see the ‘troop’ of twenty-three children come in, military-tattoo style for the opening number, with only the slightest hint of the soon-to-emerge animal inside. Lord of the Flies takes a daring twist on the William Golding’s classic 1954 novel of a group of British schoolboys lost on a tropical island during a wartime who quickly give way to primal natures. Here however, it is suggested that the children are trapped in the theatre itself.
The apocalyptic background hidden behind the narrative book is much more apparent in this production, with the audience continually aware that while salvation is only behind the door, it may be no less fear-inspiring than what is happening on the inside.
I must admit, I missed the prose, and there are limitations by the lack of verbal character description (capturing Simon’s probable psychosis, or Piggy’s keen intellect, for example), but by the conversion of words to dance the emotions of each character were beautifully captured, and the talent of these young dancers keenly showed the turmoil both without and within for each characterisation.
Despite being aged between 10 and 25, there was incredible maturity to the cast. Whilst the dancing was wonderful, the cast also managed to hold the feeling that you were really watching children with all of their emotions and individualities, rather than a precision dance troupe. This was particularly aided by the play of the choreography, shifting the youngsters between states of complete chaos and strict organisation, and showing off the incredible range across the performers.
One differing element in this adaption is that the intensity is apparent from even before the show begins, whereupon the original ‘innocence’ which is so soon to be lost is not truly captured. With such an intense beginning, it was difficult to see where the production could go with building this – and indeed it did not reach anticipated peak with the inevitable ending (let me be obtuse on the off-chance our readers never reached the end of the book). What was awe-inspiring though, was that a group of such young people were absolutely able to hold that intensity for every moment of the production. Indeed, rather than action scenes, it was the solo moments which were most moving to the audience- Simon’s (Patrick Weir) battle with his demons, the littleuns’ fear of ‘the beast’, and Piggy’s (Luke Murphy) anguish at losing his sight.
Overall, the symbolism of the theatre as the island transferred extremely well, though the infamous beheading of the pig sat awkwardly in the metaphor. However, this production was a truly unique rethink of a classic utopia-turned-dystopia tale, and a spine-tingling dance performance. A passing comment by another patron on my way out perhaps seized how effectively Lord of the Flies captured the contemporary horrors of children and warfare: “It could have been in Syria.”
Lord of the Flies is showing at the State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, April 5-9. Bookings: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2016/dance/lord-of-the-flies?m=performances