Theatre performed under the sky usually comes in one of two categories: proper plays that really belong outdoors or famous, crowd-pulling pieces like The Importance of Being Earnest or anything by Noel Coward in which one scene takes place in a garden or on a balcony. Lord of the Flies (adapted by Nigel Williams) at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park falls firmly into the former: from the moment you enter the arena and find yourself faced with the smoking plane debris in the bright spring sunshine until the final dark ending, it is impossible to imagine William Golding’s famous tale staged anywhere indoors.
A laptop on the beach and rucksacks in the wreckage indicate that we are in the 21st century rather than Golding’s cold war world and Williams performs the rather neat trick of rendering what would otherwise have been fairly anachronistic 1950s dialogue into a clever commentary on class consciousness in coalition Britain: choirboys killing an inner city state school weakling says a lot for social mobility.
Jon Bausor’s excellent set slowly disintegrates along with the semblances of civilisation on the island and some impressive pyrotechnics wreathe the stage in smoke to great effect. The problem with the gigantic plane fuselage comes when the action moves to more than one location: in spite of actors freezing and some cleverly choreographed focus switching, it becomes increasingly hard to keep track of whereabouts the characters are.
Favourite of exam syllabus compilers though it is, Lord of the Flies is no children’s tale and there’s no shortage of family-unfriendly moments in director Tim Sheader’s production: intelligent lighting and slow motion restore all the horror to scenes of violence on stage that would seem routine on the small screen.
Sheader gets a great deal of excellent work from a cast youthful enough to be a convincing set of schoolboys: Alistair Toovey and James Clay – Ralph and Jack respectively – are good foils for one another and it is impossible not to sympathise with George Bukhari’s Piggy.
Get down to the Open Air Theatre and see Lord of the Flies (through June 18). Do it before the Beast gets you…