Few directors re-stage plays. With the exception of musical theatre or opera, most tend to move on once they’ve cracked a production – particularly if they’re, say, 27, in demand, and at the beginning of what looks like a very exciting career.
But for Kip Williams, Lord of the Flies felt like unfinished business. He first tackled the play – Nigel Williams’ adaptation of William Golding’s Noble Prize-winning novel about an island of shipwrecked boys – in his final year of NIDA. Three years on (and having made his main stage debut at Sydney Theatre Company, where he is now resident director) he returns to it – with a key difference: an entirely female cast.
“The way people talk about that story is always in terms of it being a meditation on human behaviour and human darkness, and the propensity for humans to fall into anarchy and violence,” says Williams, “but all the characters are male. I got very frustrated at that fact.”
Having a female cast (albeit playing boys, as per the text) allows Williams to test Golding’s thesis on ‘humanity’ in its broader sense, and also get away from the patriarchal social politics of 1940s Britain – politics which, to his chagrin, persist on stage. (Williams wrote his Masters thesis at NIDA on ‘the representation of women on the Australian main stage’.)
“The domains of power and authority and agency on stage – particularly physical agency and power – are more often than not strictly male domains,” he explains. “That’s a problem in the medium. And I think one of the things that Lord of the Flies affords, in casting women in the roles, is an opportunity to break that down a little, and allow women on stage to be physical – and to engage in violence.”
At a recent Sydney showing of his production as a ‘work in progress’, Williams’ thesis seemed to be holding up: “The audience see them as women playing boys, but pretty quickly, I found, they forget that and see them as ‘people’ engaging in this horrible battle for power. … You get to what is ‘human’ in people’s behaviour.”
Lord of the Flies is part of Malthouse's Helium season.