Dir. Matthew Bourne & Scott Ambler, Theatre Royal, 11th-14th June
Lord of the Flies is a heralded novel, both studied and enjoyed the world over. It’s a book with a strong plot, but it’s the intricacies of the tale that have people discussing it to this day. To that end, a dance production of a story with so many levels is always going to be intriguing.
There’s a lot to be said about what New Adventures has pulled off in terms of the show’s cast. The ensemble who make up the majority of the marooned boys is a mostly local bunch, many of whom have very little background in dance. Their passion shows however, and Bourne has brought out the best in everyone on stage. If it weren’t for the press attention paid to how new to dance the boys are, you would have no idea.
The stage is very much packed. Thirty boys of varying ages, are for the most part all busy doing something, especially throughout the first act. Chaos is to be expected in Lord of the Flies, though at times it is tough to know where to look, as the boys occupy themselves differently: from Piggy’s exploration and inquisitive nature, to groups playing sports to pass the time. The boys divide as the story progresses, and it becomes easier to follow. The dominant characters (Piggy, Ralph, Jack, played by Sam Plant, Dominic North, and Danny Reubens respectively) are the main drive behind the narrative, while Simon (Layton Williams) stands out as a solitary figure, more in tune with their surroundings on an instinctive level.
This is all expressed through the dance – Simon is taunted and harassed by the Lord of the Flies in a hallucinatory scene, while Ralph and Jack’s conflicting ideals are mimicked in their movements. Ralph is the more graceful and gentle of the two, opening himself up in a vulnerable manner to the rest of the group while displaying the conch. Jack is more intense, animalistic, and aggressively masculine – his appeals to the rest of the group are displays of power, and as he grows in political influence, his dancing becomes commanding. Piggy is regularly lost in the throng, choosing to take little part in show-off displays, but shows vulnerability in his movement when he loses his glasses.
When acting without uttering a word, emotions have to be conveyed through imagery and symbolism, and hope that the audience react. The most significant part, and perhaps the loudest message, is the dropping of a teddy bear by a littlun at the show’s conclusion.
As political and multi-layered as Lord of the Flies is as a story, it lends itself well to dance. Like the story, it shows how humans express themselves so differently in, and out of, society. Ralph and Jack reflect their actions and thoughts in the novel, and the chaotic nature of the ensemble reflects their anarchic island society.
The production is certainly a companion piece to the novel – it’s uncertain that those unfamiliar with the source material would get as much out of the show. For those who are however, the visual dance representation works remarkably well, with an exceptional cast and a run time that looks appropriately long (approx 100 mins, without interval) but passes in what feels like half the time.