Does a story first published in 1954 to, it has to be said, luke-warm recognition still hold any relevance in a 21st Century world? Well, given the amount of secondary school children packed into the auditorium of The Liverpool Playhouse Theatre, many of whom will be studying the novel as a part of their GCSE curriculum this year, then the answer is “yes, most definitely”, particularly when the stage production is as evocative as this.
When a group of schoolboys survive a catastrophic plane crash, what starts as a desert island adventure quickly descends into a struggle for survival in a darkly sinister world of superstition and immorality. Yet what this Regent’s Park Theatre production really delves into is the psychological nuances of William Golding’s work and provides a great many unnerving questions that are left to the audience to answer, for good or ill.
For instance, does social order always have to conquer disorder? Is it the “duty” of the strong to protect the “weak” or is it social morality that makes us think this way and, if so, why and what happens if social morality is eroded? It also asks us to look at “civilisation” and asks by what manner do we dare to call ourselves “civilised” in today’s 21st Century?
All heavy hitting stuff, granted, but it is with great aplomb that it all pulled off here so as to never become a lecture, but rather a deeply disturbing insight into the anarchy that looms around the corner once the rules are as manifestly altered as they are for the children involved.
The set is quite simply stunning. Dominated by the near-destroyed fuselage of the crashed aeroplane, this becomes in turns the peak of the highest of mountains, the depths of the deepest mires and the plateau of the equilibrium that each and every character wishes to maintain.
Added to this is the haunting recorded music provided, on occasion, by the Westminster Abbey Choir which adds not only a sense of despair and surrealty to the piece, but also a reminder that even in the depths of torment there also remains beauty.
Then, of course, there are the performances by this fine, athletic, exuberant, well-voiced, enthusiastic and totally sublime cast of young men. Leading the way is Anthony Roberts who’s grotesquely put-upon Piggy is heartbreakingly recognisable, particularly when interacting with Luke Ward-Wilkinson’s enormously weak spirited Ralph. Excellent too as Jack is Freddie Watkins, who becomes the very personification of Freud’s id notion in that his character’s desires overrule his actions to such an extent it almost demands that the audience call “enough” such are the emotional extremes to which he takes them.
Yet as good as these performances and those of their colleagues are, the standout contribution of this performance is that of Benedict Barker as the youngest castaway, Perceval. Such is the importance of the role, the amount of nuanced stage time he has to master and the number of lines – and crucial lines at that – which he has to deliver with such authority, it all but beggars belief that he manages to carry so much weight on his young shoulders with such aplomb.
Packed with action, flair, passion, energy and downright superb erudition, Regent’s Park Theatre’s production of Lord of the Flies underlines the fact that great writing will be forever timeless, relevant and – ultimately – important to all ages and generations who appreciate it.
Lord of the Flies
Liverpool Playhouse Theatre
February 2 – February 6
Director: Timothy Shreader
Designer: Jon Bausor
Cast Includes: Luke Ward-Wilkinson, Anthony Roberts, Freddie Watkins, Keenan Munn-Francis, Matthew Castle, Benedict Barker
Running Time: 2 hrs 5 mins
PR Rating: **** Powerful & Disturbing