Friday, 18 September 2015

REVIEW: Lord of the Flies at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking

Whenever I hear the phrase “Lord of the Flies” I experience very dramatic flashbacks of my GCSE English Literature days. I had a wonderful teacher who was raised in New Zealand. Her accent was so distinctive that when it came to the exam, I could hear her voice playing round and round in my head. To this day I can still hear phrases like “Simon is the Christ-like figure in the novel” and “the conch is the symbol of order amidst all this chaos” so as I approached the New Victoria Theatre in Woking, I remembered those days. Flocks…no, SWARMS of teenagers poured into the theatre to see William H Golding’s classic 1954 novel brought to life.

The novel, simply put, closely examines the breakdown of societal values and the raw brutality of humanity in times of utter desperation. The novel follows a group of school children who are stranded on an island with no adults after a plane crash. The novel was adapted for this production by Nigel Williams.

Elements of this script were fantastic. The production felt really modern with wonderful injections of “selfies”, “banter” and street slang, which most definitely wasn’t around in 1954! It has to be said though, that overall this dialogue felt quite unnatural. This was no fault of the actors; it sadly lies in the script itself. As this play is built around the behaviour of young children and teenagers, I was really quite disappointed that the dialogue sounded so abnormal and forced on occasion.

I must take my hat off to the set and production designers who have made one of the most detailed and breath-taking sets I’ve ever seen in a touring production. Half an aeroplane with stacks of suitcases falling out of it, underground shelters, campsites, trees and hanging branches and beyond – it is absolutely exquisite – all brought together with captivating lighting effects and an original soundtrack to match.

The cast is made up entirely of children and young adults, but there was nothing ‘youth theatre’ about these kids. Each and every single one had their shining moment, and I was really taken back by just how much talent these young actors have in their bones.

The cast is lead by Luke Ward-Wilkinson as Ralph. Remember his name, because he has the potential to be a huge star one-day. He seems very earnest, yet was utterly captivating for every moment he was on the stage, and this natural stage-presence enabled him to deliver every line with clarity, conviction and sincerity. His characterisation of Ralph did the book absolute justice, and his portrayl of this despairing hero was one to remember. I cannot fault his

The antagonist of Lord of the Flies is Jack Merridew, played by Freddie Watkins. His private-school voice seemed a little exaggerated at times, and his brattiness occasionally overstated, but overall, he gave a very solid performance, particularly in act II, driven by anger and desperate need for power. When paired with Ward-Wilkinson in a fight scene, he came into his own and wowed the entire audience.

From the supporting cast, Keenan Munn-Francis as Simon, Anthony Robert as Piggy, and Dylan Lllewellyn as Henry are all worthy of recognition for their fantastic interpretations of their characters. In addition to these boys, I take my hat off to Michael Ajao as Maurice who provided much needed comic relief throughout the production and made me laugh out loud more than once. I also can’t forget to mention pocket-sized cast member David Evans who played Perceval. “Aww” sounds were audible from around the theatre during some of his scenes, afterall, who can resist a gorgeous, little boy cuddling a teddy bear which is almost as big as he is?

My special mention goes to Matthew Castle as the murderous Roger. His ruthless physicality was exceptional from start to finish, and his piercing eyes were every bit as threatening as you might fear. Castle has had no formal training, but this does not hinder him against his cast-mates. During every ‘tribe’ scene, he was the scene-stealer, and was my stand out performer from the ensemble.

On the not so positive side of things, this production is let down by low budget props. The butchered pig was so fake, it was laughable. It looked like an inflatable toy from Toys ‘R’ Us and sadly took any atmosphere built up by the actors away from the scene.

The choreography of this production was… okay. Some of the fight scenes, particularly the one between Jack and Ralph (kudos to Ward-Wilkinson and Watkins), were outstanding, but unfortunately there were some equally terrible moments such as the “stamp out the out-of-control-fire” scene. The boys were all frantically running around trying to put out the fire by stamping on it, but none of them actually stood anywhere near it! I understand the health and safety hazards, however, it was very distracting and unconvincing to see them try to put out a fire by effectively marching 2 feet away from it…

Overall, this show is definitely worth seeing for anyone who loves, or is studying the book. It has its production faults, but these are somewhat redeemed by an outstanding cast of young actors who bring Golding’s incredible work to life in a new, exhilarating and dynamic way. 

Review by Harriet Langdown 


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