Lord of the Flies – Review – Leeds Playhouse
By Roger Crow, March 2023
I’m a big fan of Grand Designs, and not just because Kevin McCloud is my style icon who delivers the best pieces to camera you’ll ever see.
Years ago I asked Kev which is the worst design he’d ever seen. I already knew the answer before he opened his mouth. A house boat built from odds and ends which hasn’t been planned, just lashed together from whatever the owners had found. Compared to the elegant architecture that dominated most of the series, this was a monstrous carbuncle which was a perfect example of what happens if you don’t plan something. Without order there is chaos.
“What does all of this have to do with a conversion of Lord of the Flies,” you may ask? Well, that’s humanity in a nutshell. Without rules and order, we descend into chaos. We are all that rusting, ugly hulk of floating scraps, and without the grand design of authority, humanity will sink.
“Fend for themselves”
I’ve never read William Golding’s classic novel, or seen the assorted films or stage versions over the years, but I have seen all of the variations in other media. The Beach, Lost, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. The themes are the same: the initial bliss of being stranded in the middle of nowhere gives way to primal instincts, and when paranoia, fear, and idiotic alphas ignore the common sense of their smarter companions, it’s only a matter of time before there is bloodshed, a fractured camp, and, inevitably, murder.
The latest production at Leeds Playhouse unfolds beautifully.
The premise is simple: in the midst of a raging war, a group of British school children are left stranded after surviving a devastating plane crash. Ralph is voted the leader over outcast Piggy and rule-breaking Jack. As tensions rise and the hunger for power grows, the group divide and become wildly out of control.
The staging is equally simple: the assembled cast of students board a flight; it crashes; they arrive on an island, which is a slab of brutalist architecture. There are palm trees and bushes and a feeling of idyllic isolation.
Left to fend for themselves, the children are tested to their limits as they struggle for survival in their new and mysterious surroundings.
There are a few standout turns. Sade Malone’s Ralph is terrific; Jason Battersby gives a wonderfully unhinged performance as Roger, while the brilliant Jason Connor’s Piggy is the voice of order, a character whose limited sight works on so many levels. His glasses are crucial to making fire, and he ‘sees’ problems that lie ahead if certain rules aren’t obeyed. Naturally the gung-ho alpha Jack (Patrick Dineen) picks on him because of his body shape, accent, and visual impairment. So yes, there’s a class battle too. “My school is better than yours.”
A special mention to Adam Fenton, who gives a performance so affecting, I was concerned for his welfare as one of the darkest elements of the drama unfolded. That’s the thing about live theatre. I’m still concerned about the welfare of the cast in The Exorcist stage show years after I saw it in London.
At 150 minutes, including a 20-minute interval, the show is too long, and there’s so much energy on stage, if the cast were rigged up to dynamos, they could probably power Leeds for a week.
And energy, as admirable as it is, does not translate as focused drama. The greatest moments are those slow motion scenes, when we get a chance to focus on the chaos. Every person on stage commits themselves admirably, and there are some genuine future stars in the making here, but a 90-minute performance would have helped no end.
‘Lord of the Flies’ is at Leeds Playhouse until 8th April
images: Anthony Robling