Time Out recommends you hit the bar early if you’re going to try on the New’s production of Lord of the Flies: it’s intense stuff, and you’ll need some good strong 'bracing wine'. At least I did, and could have done with more – this is bleak stuff. But you knew that: like going to see a production of the passion of JC or switching onto one of the myriad versions of the Titanic story (Julian Fellowes, please, just stop), The Lord of the Flies is one of those so-familiar stories where the ending is foregone and it’s the getting there that counts. Here, director Anthony Skuse chooses a very dour path.
But you knew that too: the plight of Piggy, Ralph, Jack and all the other desert-island-stranded British schoolboys is all violence and devolution and proof positive that you don’t need a MySpace account to be a world class bully. If you didn’t attend a Sydney boys’ school, the plot lifts off of William Golding’s 1954 novel and involves a bunch of teenage boys (and younger), who form a makeshift island society after a plane evacuating them from wartime Britain crashes. The group splits between those who’d like to see some order – Piggy really believes in the power of the conch and the wonders of meetings – and those who’d rather strip down and hunt – “Kill the pig! Spill its blood”.
Perhaps the defining feature of Anthony Skuse’s fine production is its creepiness, from the heavy-chord music to the giant to the featureless white papier mache masks we first see sitting at the front corner of the tilting, elevated platform on which most of the action takes place. At times, several of the boys don the masks and stalk across the stage awkwardly, or chuckle in a corner – it’s effective, haunted-house stuff. That stage by the way, is a master stroke, tipping down on stage right to a surprise shallow pool of water standing in for the lapping shorline.
The plot is essentially a slow simmer to the wild boil when true horror and anarchy kick in, and the cast all handle the build very well. (Time Out did wonder if the impact might have been greater with a younger-looking cast – Seton Pollack as the prissy-yet-violent Jack Merridew has a receding hairline – but then the performances might have been weaker.) Pollack is an awfully good menace, Andrew Ryan is solid as the solidly moral Ralph and Samuel Rushton is an excellent Piggy: he’s not especially likable, as in some of the filmed versions, which makes for a more complex telling. Stephen Lloyd-Combs as the thoughtful and odd Simon, who famously hallucinates that the pig’s head is taunting him, is the performer most likely to split audiences: he’s either doing a very good crazy, or two degrees shy of Luna Lovegood.
When the crescendo comes, it’s well staged and as horribly intense as it should be. We found ourselves deflecting our eyes as the boys stood front of stage, screaming their war cries and staring down each audience member. Deflecting our eyes… and reaching for our glass.