As you step into the Drama Barn you are hit with a musty stench, leaves and twigs are strewn on the ground, and a dirty climbing frame sits abandoned. A perfect symbol of tainted childhood innocence, and this is just the stage design.
The production of Golding’s classic tale is suitably realised: the darkness, the claustrophobia, and the culminating chaos are ever present. The fast pace of the first two acts – there are two ten minute intervals – creates within the audience the sense of impending calamity. The first act neatly builds upon the divides within the group, ending with Piggy’s claim “it’s us and them”; the second deals with the divides within the individuals themselves – Simon’s realisation that the beast is within all of us when faced with the (real) pig’s head is simply brilliant; and the third unleashes the madness.
It’s a very physical production: the cast dance with each other, spit on each other, pin each other down, and are constantly crawling in and out of the set. Simon’s death is especially vicious – it says a lot that I almost had to look away. The violence continues into the third act and wanes slightly in its affectiveness; Eric and Sam almost have a rougher time than if the directors’ had kept to the book’s choice of having them killed by the fire. Piggy’s death is made all the more upsetting by Joseph D’Angelo’s superb performance – he embraces all of Piggy’s irritating yet ultimately innocent nuances – and an earlier scene in which we see Piggy embrace and rock a distraught Ralph.
Being a very dialogue heavy production, great performances were necessary and not a single member of the cast is not on form. The audition process clearly found the best people for the roles, especially the three central characters: James Esler excellently portrays Ralph’s boyishness and civility; Max FitzRoy-Stone is Jack; and again, D’Angelo is perfect. A special mention must go to Emily Thane and Elvie Broom as Sam and Eric, they add a lightness through their childlike performances and in them importantly remind us that it is children Golding chose to embody his message.
The music is suitably distorted and swells and dies with the levels of madness present on stage. Happily the production didn’t rely on gimmicky voice overs or projections (for example, Simon speaks the whole conversation with the pig, the Lord of the Flies’ voice is, powerfully, a boy’s voice); to have the beast appear under UV lights is one of the few clever tricks, it could have done with being more frightening however. The lights constantly flick between the two camps but rather than being distracting, this works well on a practical level and on a symbolic level, depicting the distance between the two groups.
From the posters to the score, this production has been excellently executed. Anna Mawn and Rosie O’Sullivan have masterfully grasped Golding’s story; the Drama Barn’s Lord of the Flies is an emotionally exhausting experience, as the best theatre always is.