This is no Saint Trinian’s. Nor is it a straight ‘Lady of the Flies’.
Whilst the whooping and the hollering in Emma Jordan’s all-female production of Nigel Williams’ ‘Lord of The Flies’ is high pitched and pubescent, the girls still retain their boy’s names – Eric, Simon, Ralph – and the gender change soon pales into insignificance.
These stranded girls have yet to become ladies so their decent into terrifying tribalism is rapid, raw and urgent. Their naivety is soon stripped away. “Let’s make a TV set” soon becomes “How will we eat”… as the starkness of their situation strikes. And no sooner have they expressed their concerns that “We’ll all end up like a load of savages”, than the prophesy comes true. The result is as ugly and frightening an adaptation of the story as I’ve ever seen … as their jubilant bravado dwindles into abject fear
The ten girls are rapidly riven into two gangs. One is guided by the sentient but inadequate Ralph. The other is intimidated by a raging Jack, a member of the county fox hunters in her regular life who is barbarically enthusiastic about ‘blooding’ her followers. Ralph’s gang tries to hold meetings. Jack’s gang constructs its own mythology.
In this reading of the story, the slaughter of Simon is fully intentional. It is not a case of over-excited youths with knives getting carried away. Nor is there any mistaken identity. They know what they are doing and hunt her down mercilessly. And there is no remorse after the even; the killers are more interested in constructing their own defence should order be restored and justice be required.
It’s the epitome of an ensemble piece, of course, and the entire cast (many making their professional debut) are completely convincing as castaway kids.
The energy these young women bring to the production is exceptional. The complex teamwork is a classic example of how to achieve complete clarity in chaotic, cross-talking scenarios. (They must have been rehearsing for months).
Yet the messages fly across the footlights as if tied to Amazon arrows. And the picture they build up is a sinister microcosm of the dangerous world in which we now live – with its devious diplomacy and frightening future. There are clear echoes of Trump’s stupidity, Putin’s duplicity and the evil of Isis. I frequently wished Nigel Williams had been given enough rope to go the whole hog and write a much more uncompromising commentary on the desperately ridiculous power-posing that is going on between our so-called masters and the political and spiritual mess that is closing in on us.
The focus moves skittily between relationships. Most characters have their moment. But consistently strong are Kate Lamb as the bloodthirsty public school Jack, who demands leadership and bullies her way into it. Gina Fillingham is terrific as the depressive yet realistic Piggy. Her portrayal of Piggy’s panic when deprived of her glasses is truly desperate. I empathised completely with Lola Adaja’s Ralph who tries so hard to hold it all together as society collapses all around her. And Lowri Hamer’s young child is a beautifully observed characterisation.
The slatted flotsam set is ingenious, the night lighting is stunning, and Philip Stewart’s ethereal music is perfectly pitched. I especially appreciated the echoes of the old school piano.
And there is a moment of hope. When the Naval Commando finally arrives to rescue the girls, they drop into a playground line without question.