William Golding’s seminal work Lord of the Flies has been a staple in high school education for many, many years. The story of a group of boys stranded on an island after a plane crash has reached every facet of our zeitgeist. It has been parodied, satirically represented, produced as a film, and expanded upon or reimagined in many of our pop cultural favourites. Now, Lord of the Flies, adapted for stage by Nigel Williams, has found itself a bold new home in the Crete Street Theatre with Beenleigh Theatre Group.
Lord of the Flies is a story of desolation, exploring the utter loss of innocence, holding fable and culture and society up to a stark and confronting mirror. It is an utter triumph for the company, most specifically because of the incredible talents of the young ensemble who brought it to life.
Director Bradley Chapman speaks of his friends and co-workers telling him he was mad for attempting to stage not only an all male production, but also an all male production of children (the actual ensemble ranges in age from 9 years old and I can’t imagine any of them are over 20.) Flying in the face of this, Chapman’s vision brought to startling reality is nothing short of breathtaking. Not only is it a master class in direction, aptly exploring levels, use of space, dramatic stylisation, tensions, tableau and character, it is a beautiful and much needed piece of storytelling.
Not one of the young men cast seemed unfocused or out of the space, and although there were moments of first night nerves resulting in some pauses, for a script of this difficulty, they handled it with professional aplomb. Special mention must be given to the delivery of the dialogue, which all had the same sharp, crisp, delivery, pushing the story forward without pause or hesitation.
The use of sound and lighting (Shania Manning, and Logan De Groot respectively) throughout the production lent incredible depth and poignancy to much of the scene work. Full credit must be given to Chapman for his integration of costuming, and a very clever set design that gave us an isolating industrial feel rather than attempting to recreate a jungle onstage. It was definitely a case of less is more, with sharp transitions into the insanity to come shown with simple removal of shoes, or the addition of blood red paint.
Leading the young ensemble was Jayden McGinlay as Ralph. Elected Chief of the stranded tribe against his nemesis’ wishes. McGinlay gave us a laconic and easy going Ralph, happy to lead and to defend his people on his terms. A solid and carefully constructed piece of acting showed the torture within as Ralph struggles against his own nature. Asking from the audience, is it better to do the right thing, or the easy thing? The final moment of the show, leaving Ralph alone and isolated and deeply changed by his time on the island, simply holding a pair of glasses, is a chilling reminder of what happens to us all when we lose our better selves.
Playing his opposite as Jack, the prefect who swiftly falls prey to the “beast” he so fears, is Nic Van Litsenborgh. McGinlay and Van Litsenborgh are both incredibly capable young men who held the stage commandingly.
The constant push/pull between the two was masterful, and the work of actors far beyond their years. In terms of the story, Ralph champions society and rules, order and discourse – the “proper” way of doing things. Meetings and token symbolism being the glue that holds society together. Jack on the other hand, represents that other side of human nature. His devolution into a hunter, a monster, a champion of might makes right is swift and staggering. Unfailingly his lines rang out the most, reminding me of arguments that are had in our political hallways, and Houses of Parliament. Stark reminders that having rules and symbolism is fine, but our warriors must have spears that are sharp because of … the beast lurking forever in the shadows.
I thought on more than one occasion that our senior most politicians should be sitting beside me, watching these young men hold an unfiltered mirror up to what our society became during times of war, and in so many ways, has never lost.
As the story plays out, each tribal elder has their own second in command, reflecting their own nature and ideals in a more diluted manner. Jack’s second is Roger, played by Jordan Stott. Roger is a zealot of the first order, calling Jack ‘Master’, and kneeling before him to be baptised in blood. Stott’s performance is incredibly committed, chilling, and there are interactions with younger members of the cast that are genuinely hard to watch – as well they should be.
Ralph’s second in command is Piggy, played by Levi Rayner in what must be the performance of the night. Rayner had an incredibly difficult, albeit pivotal, role. He is vulnerable and yet never once hesitates to speak out. Even when it costs him. Perhaps especially when it costs him. His lack of confidence in himself is beautifully, and heartbreakingly portrayed. As is his quiet defiance. He never once comes across as a caricature, being neither over nor under played, Rayner embodies him with a stunning confidence and clarity for an actor who is in Grade 7, and I look forward to seeing what he does as he grows.
Liam Pert played Simon, a young man who is afflicted with what can only be guessed is epilepsy, perhaps paired with schizophrenia as there appear to be voices playing out in his mind. Pert gave full license to embrace the descending madness of his character. He did a very difficult job, portraying an illness that many adults would not necessarily understand or be able to convey and he did it well. His final, terrifying, scenes are neatly handled by Pert, and these must have been rehearsed countless times to handle the sheer gravity of what transpires.
It must be said, that in every good drama, there are moments of comedy. The light was brought in largely by Elliot Hanscomb and Fraser Anderson, playing Sam and Eric. Two young men who might as well be twins, as their interactions play out, giving much needed levity to the horror unfolding around them. They are joined by Samuel Johnson as Perceval, who delighted and broke the tension wonderfully with each entrance asking blearily what was going on.
Rounding out the small but powerful ensemble of young actors were Chris Patric (Maurice), Calvin Olivier (Bill), Nicholas Griffin (Henry), and Nick Smith (The Naval Officer). Each of these actors brought together a fully realised, and in depth portrayal of their characters that gave expanse and menace to the swiftly changing world of the island.
The sheer talent of this company of children, playing out lives not theirs, eagerly embracing situations that are confronting and powerful and visceral, did what many adult actors could not. Reflecting our innermost fears, our insecurities. Our supposed strengths and our too easily abandoned better natures. The power in their performance was simple, they were children playing and exploring and committing. Their portrayals were honest and without fear. This show, this incarnation of this show, is one that our society desperately needs. It needs to be seen, to be discussed and considered. It is the lesson that we all urgently need.
This production is a bold masterstroke by the team at Beenleigh Theatre Company. The show plays until 3rd February 2017 at the Crete Street Theatre. Tickets are available at www.beenleightheatregroup.com. If you see no other production this year, please, I am begging you, head over to Crete Street and see Lord of the Flies.