Reviews Dance Published 19 May 2014

Lord of the Flies

Birmingham Hippodrome ⋄ 14th - 17th May 2014 and touring

Matthew Bourne stages Golding’s novel.

Roderic Dunnett

Matthew Bourne’s Lord of the Flies, midway through a dozen venue UK tour, is – in places – visceral, astonishing, and memorable. It uses the large stage brilliantly, full of scenes of electrifying, superbly directed mass movement.

In its ‘deserted theatre’ setting we may not get the waving palms of the Peter Brook film, shot in Puerto Rico, or the scent of coral reefs and guano, but somehow Bourne creates a space of strange, eerie allure. Lez Brotherston’s set intensifies the whole mood of the piece and the vibrant cast, which includes two dozen beautifully prepared local amateur performers – from primary school kids to people in their early twenties – has a meticulous precision which makes the whole thing buzz. They’re magnetising, exciting to watch: terrific.

Occasionally the action droops and the production loses narrative clarity. Because large numbers forever deck the stage, vividly employed as they are, we miss the pas-de-deux or -trois that made, say, David Bintley’s King Arthur and Edward II for Birmingham Royal Ballet so riveting. Where Bourne thins the numbers, as in the Ralph (Dominic  North)/Piggy (Sam Plant) duet later on, before the balloon goes up, he grabs you. North’s eminently decent Ralph convinces. Plant too (wrong school uniform – surely Piggy and Ralph should be differentiated?) is a strong performer: he moves attractively, is tender, poignant, incipiently wise. Danny Reubens, meanwhile, a Bourne Swan Lake veteran, is agitated, patently unscrupulous, frightening and amoral, perfect as the manipulative, bloodied head chorister Jack, though he deserves a full-length, not attenuated, solo dance.

Jack’s henchman Roger (Dan Wright) and Maurice (Sam Archer) tend to get absorbed into the mêlée, but there are nice touches from tied-at-the-hip twins Sam ’n Eric (Luke Murphy, Leon Moran). The most engaging soloist is Simon (Layton Williams). Simon, spotlit, is the sacrificial victim, the soul of these amok boys. He is ‘other’: so alienated from the rest, then fascinated by the boar’s death head; his own grisly death (graphically staged) seems inevitable.

Williams, a former Billy Elliott, moves with exquisite grace. Bourne and co-director Scott Ambler choreograph him enchantingly, and with commendable restraint. His love-in with three pigs’ heads, fate-harbingers, mesmerises. His end is a  kind of Pietà. This focus on Simon saves the show as narrative. Chris Davey’s back-projections of vast sun, then moon are hugely powerful.

Bourne’s set pieces are a joy: when the cheerful youngsters convert an oil drum into a giant go-kart; when the reluctant little boys potter across the stage with pongy latrine buckets; when the fire roars and burns out; when one small boy (Percy?) finds the body; the fabulously disconcerting first entry of the choir. Terry Davies’s music, led by cello soloist Nick Allen, enhances endlessly, urged on by bongos, gongs, and gamelans.

When a wary soldier emerges from the rescue ship and all shamefacedly troop into the hold – except Ralph, left behind alone and traumatised – it’s as good as Brook’s  famous monochrome ending. This Lord of the Flies is not unflawed, but patently a triumph for Bourne’s New Adventures company.


Lord of the Flies Show Info

Produced by New Adventures

Directed by Matthew Bourne and Scott Ambler

Choreography by Scott Ambler




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