Lord of the Flies

Thu 19th – Sat 28th April 2012

reviews

Nicholas Morgan

at 01:54 on 20th Apr 2012

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Eat My Box Productions presents their first play, Nigel Williams' stage adaptation of William Golding's "Lord of the Flies," at the Oxford Castle Mound. The production is striking, energetic and laudable, especially as a first production. Sadly, the resources of the Mound itself (in the mind of this critic, one of the greatest untapped resources for site-specific work in Oxford) were made little use of on opening night due to weather conditions. It was damp, so the section of the play meant to be performed on the Mound transferred indoors, though I think the audience could have withstood these conditions. I envy future audiences who will experience the work in situ, the Mound being a place almost preternaturally suited to this play. Despite our notoriously cruel April, the play still manged to make good use of the Mound from the interior performance space. Characters would exit onto the Mound through the window, where some scenes took place, and the audience's attention was directed carefully from the interior space to the looming Mound and back. To twist one's neck in witness of horrifying events–most memorably the crazed slaughter of a pig–and then to return one's focus to the main was, in my experience, powerfully effectual immersive entertainment.

The play begins with one of its best moments as the boys, crash-landed on a deserted island, immediately begin rollicking, jumping and jostling. Carefully choreographed, this moment subtly establishes the connection between the rough play of everyday English public school life and the more violent rites that ultimately provide this story's dark end and, perhaps, its moral. Choreography is indeed one of this production's strengths. Although the blocking sometimes did not allow for clear view from all seats, scenes of almost balletic action consistently gripped me and the tragic violence of the characters was best expressed not orally but in these physical arrangements. Given the intimate space, some actors over-projected, but in the most violent and climactic moments their bravado, which in quieter scenes could verge on over-acting, worked.

The casting is very good. The ages of the actors was appropriately ambiguous; each actor seemed somewhere between 16 and 20, and thus sat within the realm of plausibility (though the boys in the novel are younger, the plot makes as much sense applied to late-teens). The secret star of the play is Scott Newman as Jack, the snobbish choirmaster who ultimately leads his boys into barbarism. Newman lurks beautifully over the action, his looming, sinister physicality immediately expressing much of his character's potential menace as well as his immediate charm and charisma. There is, after all, a reason Jack brings so many of the boys to his savage side, and Newman makes this not only clear, but comprehensible. One conceit of this production is to have each audience member vote at the end for the leader they would have followed, the more humane Ralph or Newman's menacing Jack. It is testament to the quality of this production that the decision is not as easy as Golding's novel would have it. I won't say how I voted, but I did see several people surreptitiously voting for Jack, the character we are not meant to like but somehow do. Calum Roscoe's Piggy plays an interesting part in this renewed ambiguity because his Piggy is not the two-dimensionally pitiable boy readers know well, but rather a stronger, less pathetic character. I shivered when he lost his glasses and, looking for Ralph, said 'I can remember your face,' as if humanity has become a mere memory. Pete Sowersby as Roger is perhaps the most striking and mysterious figure, and his quiet yet immediately arresting entrance to the stage nicely belied his ultimate role in the plot. Sowersby was sometimes reductively violent in delivering his lines, yet in quieter moments, and in his physical performance of his character, the potentially forgettable Roger became a second star of the show, just as interesting as the leaders. Sowersby's psychological portrayal is worth watching closely. Fen Greatley's Simon was less prominent, but Greatley is a more convincing speaker than some of his peers. When talking to himself, he becomes more pathetic than Piggy– and more sympathetic.

Sometimes the show descended into melodrama. Scenes devoted to one-on-one conversation or character development could have used more attention. Conversely the best scenes were the loud, scary 'savage' scenes in which members of Jack's camp jumped and hopped around the fire or fought their peers like the tortured sons of Laocoon. The lighting could better differentiate between night and day, giving us some feeling of the heat of this tropic isle and its harrowing darkness. This "Lord of the Flies" is never quite as moving as it could be, which perhaps means that pacing should be faster or the more personal conversations between characters better acted. Some scenes were presented off-stage via recorded dialogue, and this was frustrating merely because it would easily have been more engaging to spend a bit more time with these promising actors. But it is this last point I would linger on: that it was truly a delight to witness these talented actors working very hard to successfully present an often-convincing illusion of human nature's darkness set on the tabula rasa of a deserted island, which kept me happily watching till the end. I look forward to seeing more from these actors and from the burgeoning Eat My Box Productions.

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April Elisabeth Pierce

at 08:58 on 20th Apr 2012

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It begins with a simple stage, some dry wood, an open window, and a little sand. With a sparse, minimalist set, and an even more spartan interpretation of the text , “Lord of the Flies”, as envisioned by Charlie Parker and Carl Anglim, is about as 'in the box' as they come. But that’s not necessarily a complaint. Though sometimes lacking in layers of intrigue, the delivery of this time-honoured story is energetic, candid, and overall compelling.

Blending Harold Pinter’s parsimonious, infantile style of dialogue with George Orwell’s sense of sociological and political allegory, the play itself poses a sizable challenge to even the most experienced of directors, with its simultaneous narrative simplicity and thematic depth. Audience members are gifted upon entry with a unique visual aid in the form of a “vote” for one of the two main characters, cuing them to attend to the central significance of the conflict between Jack and Ralph (who are archetypes of leadership and social organization). The device works its charm, instantly focusing attention where it is most needed: whose island is preferable? Which social model seems plausible after caution and custom have been thrown to the pigs? Other artistic touches, such as spotlighting to indicate sun and moon, and a clever use of the constrained indoor space to divide “high territory” from “low territory”, further contribute to the accessibility of the play, and show thoughtfulness on the part of the director. These deliberate details are particularly helpful for younger members of the audience, who seem to enjoy the play as much as their chaperones.

In its most crucial elements, the play is a success. The actors work well as a group, lines and sound effects are on point without being distracting, and moments of calculated violence are appropriately disturbing. While the comic sometimes threatens to break the spell of the tragic, and most of the scenes go for high octane rather than emotional subtlety, there are several standout moments which provide relief from the masculine maelstrom. Noteworthy performances are Sam Cole and Gavin Moore, who manage to smuggle some understated poignancy and interest into the frenzy. In a word, the play is solid; it goes off without a hitch, but there are moments when one could feel more for the individual characters or motifs than is allowed by the hyperactively enthusiastic mood of most scenes.

Advertised as ‘the first production to ever take place on the historic Oxford Castle Mound', a number of technical weaknesses could be ameliorated by sunshine. On a clear night, the performance takes place outside, in the suitably shout-friendly setting of the Mound. However, if a hard day’s rain forces the evening indoors, one must be braced against the hearty volume levels of voices, which are not adjusted to suit the smaller, more intimate venue (lots of yelling and wrestling). Despite the odds, and in any weather, the first offering from the new production company “Eat My Box” is a commendable, straightforward tribute to a beloved classic.

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