Event Review: Lord of the Flies
Bede’s annual Junior Productions are primarily staged to provide the School’s youngest actors with a means of showcasing their many talents, however this year’s First Year and Fifth Form drama – a stage adaptation of William Golding’s infamous novel Lord of the Flies – offered its audiences so much more.
A story familiar to huge swathes of the population due to its enduring status as a set text in schools, it is a remarkable feat in and of itself that Lord of the Flies’ narrative has retained its power across the 60-plus years since the its publication.
For those unfamiliar with the foreboding tale, Golding’s original sees a group of unfamiliar schoolboys stranded together on an otherwise uninhabited island. A sort of Hunger Games for the post-WW2 generation, the cautionary tale explores how perilously close mankind remains to savagery, the author’s fierce message amplified by the shocking youth and vulnerability of its subjects.
In the Bede’s theatrical adaptation, and befitting the modern times in which we live, the production’s director, Mrs Lewis, swapped the genders of approximately half of the characters, the most prominent switches being Ralph’s transmogrification into ‘Rachel’ – played brilliantly by a demure Grace Stannard – and the novel’s most famous character, Piggy, embodied by First Year Drama Scholar Izzy Sayer.
This subtle shift, reinforced by the Connie Preston’s casting as Sam, the changing of ‘Bill’ to Echo Abraham’s ‘Beth’ and ‘Maurice’ to Emily Adams’ ‘Marcia’, made explicit an always simmering and deeply haunting sexual subtext within the story and exponentially elevated the levels of tension, ratcheting the sense of fear in audiences from alarm to downright terror.
Staged in traverse, with one of the most technically ambitious sets in recent Bede’s memory, there was, quite frankly, nowhere safe to look during the production’s grimmest moments. Played out across three increasingly dark acts, the sandy beach in the centre of the Miles Studio Theatre deteriorated from sun-washed and bright to trampled, filthy and blood-stained, with the characters’ costumes deteriorating in line with their mental states.
Central to the success of the production was Tom McGovern’s Jack – tall, handsome and snobbishly cruel, McGovern managed to express his character’s descent into brutal and savage madness with alarming believability.
A towering performance from an incredibly animated young actor, MocGovern's Jack was sincerely and believably unhinged, his long, thin limbs, chillingly adorned with crimson war paint, increasingly threatening in contrast to his stockier juvenile cast mates.
Grace Stannard’s Rachel was McGovern’s dramatic foil; innocent, earnest and nigh-on sweet, the increasingly vicious verbal, psychological and physical abuse she suffered was rendered distressingly convincing by her sensitive performance.
Watching as Rachel tried her best to do the right thing, to be kind and thoughtful and good as brutality slowly but inevitably boiled over, was not only emotionally painful but also made plausible through Ms Stannard’s portrayal.
Also thoroughly worthy of praise was Jaz Wardle’s Simon whose epileptic seizures and dreamy mental state felt appropriately representative of the island’s collective unconscious.
His sad and desperate demise in a moment of thunderous animalism, a physical maelstrom elevated by exceptional sound, light and special-effects work, was a truly transporting and all but hallucinogenic piece of theatrical horror.
Elsewhere, Freddie Tuson’s Roger was convincingly vile in equal contrast with Izzy Sayer’s suitably simple-minded, open-mouthed Piggy. Both shone in their parts, their characters statuses within the ensemble represented both appropriately and with nuance.
Otherwise, for a play with a cast of 16, it became surprisingly hard to distinguish many of the characters from another the longer the play went on; in due course, the smartly-uniformed, amusingly cheeky schoolchildren became a mass of gibbering, psychopathic tribes-folk, chanting, dancing and baying for blood.
With only 80 seats available for each performance and the production staged over just four performances across three days, those who managed to acquire a ticket were extraordinarily fortunate. They witnessed youth theatre at its very best, not least as the company of children seemed to know how to terrorize the adults watching and revel in the process.
Indeed, with the cast embodying grim reflections of their observers and stalking menacingly through the shadows, it might be argued that they forced those in attendance to recoil from themselves, shadows formed from a darkness that lurks within us all, primordial and threatening, hiding dormant somewhere beneath the surface.