Classic boyish savagery with a ‘selfie’ twist in Lord Of The Flies
The production coming to the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre includes contemporary references alongside the rivalries and tension at the heart of William Golding’s 1954 novel
Yossi Goodlink, Michael Ajao, Freddie Watkins and Asbill Maurice in ‘Lord of the Flies’. Photograph: Johan Persson
Anybody coming to the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre next month, expecting to see a period piece that harks back to the 1950s, might be surprised to find that the plot of Lord Of The Flies is as relevant today as it was in the post-second World War years.
A selfie helps break the ice between the group of British schoolboys, who have just found themselves stranded on a tropical island after their plane is shot down during a war. Between shouts of “great banter” and “I’m a celebrity, get me out of here”, their biggest lament is that they can’t tag themselves because there’s no 3G.
It’s a slight tweak to the scenario penned in the critically acclaimed 1954 novel by William Golding.
“Golding was writing in response to Hiroshima, Auschwitz and Stalin, which was a very particular world of blackness and destruction,” says director Timothy Shearer.
“So it’s very easy if it’s a historical piece to look at it as, ‘oh that was then. It was a piece of history’. What we are largely trying to say, is that it’s modern without having a completely new adaptation. Selfie is a very important word, because that word suddenly brings us up to date. It’s a word that allows us to think this is here and now, and for the younger members of the audience it allows them to be able to watch themselves and think, ‘what if?’
“We wanted to make sure that we were relating it to the issues now, that the same thing could happen now. We are the same type of people.”
While singing Kesha and talk of building an Xbox might sound contrived, it’s a ploy that isn’t over worked and pays off well. The audience, both young and old, immediately start to put themselves in the shoes of these 11 boys, who far away from civilisation have to navigate between the impulse for order and the impulse for savagery. It all starts out quite promising. Good-natured Ralph, a popular boy from a steady and loving family, easily makes friends with Piggy, the chubby one from a working-class background. Piggy is eager to establish some order, just like at home.
The ultra-posh choirboys, led by Jack, hit it off with Ralph while Piggy becomes the butt of everyone’s jokes. But when Ralph is elected leader he starts to feel bad about joining in with the bullying of Piggy and apologises. Jack can’t understand why Ralph would choose to embrace Piggy and feels rejected.Thus begins a split in the camp. The groups lead to rivalry between those who want to hunt, with their rallying cry of “Kill the pig, spill its blood”, and those who just want to build shelter, keep the fire going to attract a passing ship and get off the island. And overarching it all, are rumours of a “beast” whose presence puts fear in everyone on the island.
‘Need to belong’
“We all do it, we create this enemy that we are going to call the East or the West and feel that we need to belong to that tribe. We know that people are now joining Isis and other extremist groups for security, to belong,” says Shearer.
Trying to figure out what the rules are in a society with no adults is something that they boys struggle to establish. They want to know what’s good and what’s evil, choosing between fire, shelter and order, to hunting, blood and feasting. Soon they are past a point of rescue.
“Some of the boys slip away and it’s asked where they’re gone to,” says Shearer. But they’ve just slipped away, they’ve put on a brownshirt, they’ve gone in the middle of the night to tell the police they live next door to a Jewish family. There’s never a moment of wickedness, they just decide, I’m going to join that camp. The allegory is brilliant.”
Watching the stage adaptation of Lord of the Flies is sometimes like watching a film, in part because of the set, the movement and the music. The whole piece is dramatically underscored, from the sounds of the island to the sound of a heartbeat drumming that subtly heightens the drama in the more intense scenes, without the audience even realising. The scenes where the boys descend into a violent savagery, are acted in spectacular slow motion so that the terror, excitement and barbarism of their animalistic movements is even more pronounced.
“That was a ploy to expose the inner really,” says Shearer. “To suddenly look at what’s underneath their actions. The moment where you see them chasing someone and you slow it down, you suddenly see them as different creatures. You see the animal, the beast within, you look at them in a different way. It was a very definite decision to expose another level in the action and it’s the sort of thing that you can do theatrically that a book can never do.”
There are some changes to the book in the stage adaptation. Some lines are given to different characters and the chronology has also been tweaked.
“I used the book as a research tool, not a bible,” says co-director Liam Steele.
“It’s about telling the story as eloquently as possible but as theatrically as possible, to make it an exciting experience for people.”
The movement in the play is non-stop and the set is cleverly designed as a giant climbing frame. The actors, who had to undergo a lot of circuit and physical training to prepare for their roles, bounce, leap off and generally run amok in it.
Fitting the stage
The set that will arrive on the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre’s stage will differ slightly from the one used during the company’s outdoor production in Regents Park over the summer. That set, complete with real sand and a backdrop of tall, imposing trees where the actors (and audience) were at the mercy of the weather and lighting, will be tailored to fit the stage.
And while the actors will roll about on fake sand and the flame torches will be more controlled to ensure the whole place doesn’t go up in flames, the set which plays such a pivotal role in moving the production along, will loose none of its impact.
“It should feel totally real,” says designer Jon Bausor. “All that carnage is the thing that makes it. The dressing, the big landing gear, the idea is that it is going to explode in the auditorium so it’ll be an immersive experience for the audience. They’ll feel like it’s literally landed in, and all that fast energy, everything is being pushed out into the audience.”
One of the most impressive and important parts of the set is the remnants of the crashed plane which, without any set change, is used to represent various parts of the island. The fact that it is made from real planes salvaged from around the UK just makes it all the all more authentic.
The authenticity in the play’s story however is one of its most challenging points. Was it real or was it all just a game that the boys were playing? What would I do if I was there? It makes real food for thought in a world where Golding’s bleak portrayal of humanity isn’t that hard to relate to.
Lord of the Flies is at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, November 24th-28th. Tickets from €15 at bordgaisenergytheatre.ie