Being upstaged by your surroundings is always an occupational hazard if you’re part of a cast at the picturesque Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. But you can’t help but feel the boys in Timothy Sheader’s Lord Of The Flies are at an extra disadvantage when they also have to compete with a British Airways 747.
Where designer Jon Bausor managed to get hold of the tail end of a plane is anyone’s guess, but when you enter the auditorium to a smoking crash scene complete with a hill of suitcases, clothes, books and toys spewed out of the snapped in half aircraft, the effect is undoubtedly worth the effort.
Nigel Williams’s stage version of William Golding’s iconic novel is as disturbing and downright spooky as you would hope. The credit for this has to given, not only to the incredible natural lighting which allows the second half to take place in near darkness, but to the young cast of boys, most of whom make their professional stage debuts in the production.
George Bukhari plays the bespectacled, asthma-plagued Piggy with just the right amount of vulnerability versus the character’s irritating goody two shoes-ness, while Alistair Toovey is well cast as the contrastingly carefree Ralph. The latter is named chief after a plane crash sees a group of boys left to roam adult-free on an island that quickly transforms from an idyllic playground to hell on earth.
With the boys from a mix of schools and backgrounds – from boarding school boys with gowns and mortar boards, a tiny preparatory child and an Inbetweeners-esque comprehensive pupil with headphones surgically attached to his ears – groups and cliques are created, just as they would naturally, and in this case often nastily, in the playground.
But with a beastie on the loose, pigs to hunt and shelters to be made, the boys are soon divided between those who want to play by the rules and those who don’t. When the authoritarian and sadistic Jack (James Clay) takes the boys on a hunt, those that return with freshly spilled blood on their hands become savages in a new tribal game that Piggy and Ralph can’t bring themselves to play.
Strictly one for those over the age of 11, Sheader’s production is one of disturbing transformations. Choirboys become painted warriors, chanting and drums replace choral music and bullying becomes a fatal game.