- Based on the novel by William Golding . Adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams
- Directed by Blake Robison
- Produced By Round House Theatre
- Reviewed by Steven McKnight
Directing a theatrical production of the classic novel “Lord of the Flies” is a task with a high degree of difficulty. Balancing the degree of symbolism versus realism, deciding how to stage the action sequences, and handling a large ensemble of young men are just a few of the challenges. Fortunately, Blake Robison nails every artistic choice in Round House Theatre’s gripping and memorable new production.
The story begins with a group of British schoolboys stranded on an island following a plane crash. While the island at first seems an idyllic paradise with no adults and no rules, the boys gradually face the “beast” that may lurk on the island and in their souls. A breakdown of civilization leads to conflict that makes both a fascinating parable and compelling theatre.
The producer chose to fill most of the cast with young adult men who possess a youthful appearance. Any small loss in verisimilitude is more than outweighed by the acting chops of this talented ensemble. This experienced cast handles the British dialects, the character evolutions, and the stage combat with effortless aplomb. Moreover, their physical maturity makes the threatened and actual violence even more menacing.
The three leads all offer convincing performances. Ralph (Alexander Strain) is a smooth and charismatic figure who is naturally chosen chief by the other boys shortly after they gather. He is a nuanced character, capable of dominance in seizing Piggy’s glasses to build a fire and regretful enough to apologize afterwards. As the head hunter who challenges Ralph’s leadership, Jack (Evan Casey) is a strong, bordering on psychotic, figure. Piggy (Craig Patterson) is a memorable character who is irritating to the other boys because of his annoying lack of social graces, his physical shortcomings, and his insistence on calling for decisions through group meetings.
The director skillfully moves the story forward with high energy and a modern sensibility. Scenes breaks feature modern music and often include some exhilarating interpretive dance. The stage combat is handled in a stylized manner that is equally well choreographed.
The fact that we can anticipate the evolving savagery only makes it more awful to experience. We are fascinated by the hunters’ increasing physicality as they submit to a Jack’s authority and a primitive lifestyle. It is heartrending to understand the accuracy of Piggy’s warning not to risk losing authority by blowing the conch shell to call a meeting that the hunters may ignore. Finally, even those who have not read the book can see the logical outcome of Piggy’s final campaign to force the hunters to recognize and do what’s right.
The actors are aided by flawless production elements. Kevin Rigdon’s scenic design is both functional and beautiful, an abstract tri-level set with a craggy slanted rock cliff on top. His lighting design is equally impressive in conveying the sense of fire, in moving from day to night, and in using colors to convey moods for the dance and combat sequences.
Trish Rigdon’s costume design is also perfectly suited to the story. The boys evolve from authentic prep school outfits to disheveled and worn clothing, supplemented by war paint for the hunters. Matthew Nielson’s sound design delivers a powerful yet balanced set of effects, from the opening plane crash to the raw techno-rock excerpts.
While the adaptation of Golding’s novel (first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1995) is skillful, it does inevitably suffer from the difficulty of conveying inner psychological turmoil. Certain aspects of the novel, such as the role of the “Lord of the Flies” (a pig’s head mounted on a stick) and the symbolism of Simon’s character, are not fully realized in the script. In addition, the fate of Simon is one instance where the stylized violence undercuts the event’s horror and what should have been a more powerful end to Act I.
The program lists the time of the play as “Today or Tomorrow.” While Golding’s 1954 novel remains a classic work, this stunning modern production makes the story even more powerful and disturbing. The psychological and visceral thrills of this work offers fine entertainment for anyone from teenagers on up. Just remind yourself to inhale so you don’t pass out during the breathlessly exciting second act.
- Running Time: 1:55 (one intermission)
- Where: Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD.
- When: Now through Sunday, April 27.
- Tickets: Adult tickets are $50-$60; child/teen tickets are $20.
- Info: Visit the theatre’s box office, call (240) 644-1100, or go online.