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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Open Air Theatre, Regent Park


  Joshua Williams/ Ph: Johan Persson

“Why do you always have to be in charge?” “Because I killed the pig.”
William Golding’s 1954 novel about English public schoolboys turning feral on a remote tropical island has assumed classic status. But its disturbing vision of savagery and carnage – with its central image the towering, grotesque totem of an impaled pig head rotting on a stick in the sun amid a black cloud of buzzing flies – retains both its stench and its sting.
Timothy Sheader’s production of this stage adaptation by Nigel Williams, which begins this year’s season at the Open Air Theatre, is as potent as the source material. With a breathtaking design by Jon Bausor and movement direction by Liam Steel that is at once balletic and elegant, childlike yet galvanised by burgeoning testosterone, it is performed with ferocity by a compelling young cast. This is theatre that thrills and chills.
Sheader gives the story a vigorous update, without sacrificing the sense that these well-to-do children have led lives sheltered by the type of privilege that is still very persistent in sections of British society. They may have iPods and a laptop, and some of their slang has been modernised, but the boys, for all their expensive education, are vulnerable, naïve and in some cases dangerously arrogant and devoid of a clear sense of consequence.
Bausor’s set brilliantly transforms the theatre’s idyllic setting into a disaster zone. The wreckage of a jumbo jet is beached among a strewn mass of luggage, disgorging its contents across the stage and among the shrubbery. One fractured wing makes a dynamic leafy walkway entrance from the trees. As darkness falls, rustling leaves and shadows lend an encroaching sense of dread. The beast that the youngest child imagines is lurking, just out of sight, is there all right, but it in the painted faces around the campfires that so easily flare out of control, in the murky hinterland of the psyche, rather than amid the dark branches.
And yet it all starts so benignly. Decent, sensible young Ralph (superb newcomer Alistair Tovey), part of a school party marooned on the island when some unspecified global conflict erupts, meets affable, mildly irritating Piggy (George Bukhari) among the debris. Piggy, more lower-middle class, and by implication less monied, than most of the boys, has the mentality of a civil servant, with his penchant for laborious meetings and points of order. But it quickly becomes clear that, despite his thick glasses, this picked-on child, the butt of every cruel joke, is also the clearest-sighted of the castaways. At first, the wild ideas bandied about are relatively harmless and boyish: mash the place up! Midnight feasts! But the source of most of the tension is prefect, bully and chorister Jack (James Clay), who, all bloodlust and appetite, won’t be satisfied with such innocent naughtiness for long.
Other boys – sensitive, intellectual Simon and anarchist drop-out Roger are – marginalised, as opposing tribes begin to emerge, and are forced to choose either to join in with the mayhem or pay a horrific price. Even the tiny, bell-voiced little Perceval, who stammers out a tearful hope that his mummy is still alive, is drawn into the violence, imitating the bigger boys who now control his world and are his only role models and protectors.
At times it feels as if we are watching an anatomy of how wars are started. And when, at the bleak conclusion, the boys are confronted with their rescuer in the shape of a shouting, brutal armed soldier who descends from a helicopter like a deus ex machina, the production also forces us to confront questions about the notions of masculinity our children are taught, in a global village where might, not right, so often imposes its will. Sheader keeps the action nerve-snappingly taut throughout, and if, on rare occasions, the kaleidoscoping of scenes looks a little muddled, the whole is never le


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