Having first been published in 1954, Nobel Prize winning author William Goudling’s Lord of the Flies has gone on to become one of the most famous books of all time, having influenced, among other things, movies such as Battle Royale and The Hunger Games, the TV series Lost, an Iron Maiden song and even a classic episode of The Simpsons. The novel’s simple, yet provocative, story of a society without rules was ripe for the stage, proving to be very successful with each run. The latest take on the Lord of the Flies stage show made its Irish debut on Tuesday in Dublin’s Bord Gais Energy Theatre.
Our show begins much as the book of the same name did, with two schoolboys, Ralph and Piggy, finding themselves marooned on an island after a plane crash. Before long, they are joined by close to a dozen other boys and begin to attempt to establish some sort of ordered society. The peace, however, is short lived and a power struggle comes about before long, with the benevolent Ralph jostling for control of the newly formed ‘tribe’ with the more insidious Jack Merridew who seeks leadership, not for the good of the other boys, but to feed his own selfish and basic desires. It quickly becomes apparent that Ralph is fighting something of a losing battle as most of the boys lack the maturity to see the benefits of a structured society, quickly falling for the lures of Jack’s much simpler, more animalistic way of life. As Jack’s crew become more brutal and savage, their ingrained tribalism takes a turn for the worse as they begin to antagonise Ralph’s group with horrific consequences.
Goulding’s Lord of the Flies is wonderfully brought to life on the Bord Gais Energy Theatre stage, with a superb looking set consisting of a beach front, tropical trees and the remains of a crashed plane, complete with sundry items of luggage littering the stage front. Despite having relatively limited space, the play makes excellent use of what it has by allowing stage areas to essentially ‘double up’ as multiple locations, removing the need for on the fly stage dressing. A system of having simultaneous scenes run parallel to each other seems strange at first, but quickly becomes a clever way to keep the show’s pacing nice and fast, while adding a suitably chaotic visual element to proceedings which, combined with a soundtrack consisting mostly of tribal drumming, allows the spectator to feel the madness that inflicts many of the characters on stage.
Lord of the Flies is a classic story for a reason and the Bord Gais Theatre play is quite faithful to the book, with nearly all of the characters recreated as one hope of them. Indeed, it is a testament to the show’s young cast that they are more than capable of portraying such intense characters. One exception though, in my opinion, was the character of Roger, who represents society’s sociopath, who’s sadistic tendencies are only hidden away because society would punish him if he were to reveal his true nature. Through no fault of the actor playing him, we never really get to see the full extent of his perverse ways. Indeed, he often comes across as being more mischievous than sinister. More than compensating though, is the youngest member of the cast, Perceval, who represents the easily led masses. While initially shown to be a harmless sort, his allegiance is so quickly swayed that he is, in a way, the most dangerous boy of all, constantly seeking a better deal anywhere he can find it as he looks after his own skin and his own skin alone, everyone else be damned. The small boy playing him does a terrific job at showing how one can cause a world of pain for others through little more than one’s own full-blooded ignorance.
One notable annoyance that we see in this take on Lord of the Flies is a fairly ham-fisted attempt at ‘modernising’ the story. Early in the show the boys make all sort of 21st Century pop culture references from Miley Cyrus lyrics to Ant n’ Dec style ‘bantz’. There is even a moment where they pause to take a selfie of themselves on a smartphone. While classic literature purists might be horrified to see a seminal piece of work such as Lord of the Flies ‘tainted’ by such modern updates, the real problem with them is just how awkwardly they were segued into the play. Despite including 21st Century additions, the show still references the fact that the story is taking place during World War 2, so the timeline makes no sense. It’s hard to take things all that seriously when the boys reference that the Queen of England has a map which details every island on the globe in one breath, while mentioning that 3G exists in another. It feels as though the more modern references were added to the script in a hastily written draft which was never proofread – an amateurish oversight for what is clearly a high budget show.
Fortunately, the off-putting modern pop culture nonsense is fully dispensed of by the time the second act rolls around, leaving a much purer and more sensical play for the audience to become engrossed in. While it is not a perfect adaptation of William Goulding’s book, the Bord Gais Energy Theatre take on Lord of the Flies is an exciting show which challenges audiences to reflect inwardly.
Are you a Ralph or a Jack?
Lord of the Flies runs in the Bord Gais Energy Theatre until Saturday, November 18th.
Tickets range from €15 to €45.
[Image: Bord Gais Energy Theatre]