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REVIEW: Lord of the Flies at Sydney Theatre Company

By Rosie Niven

“Maybe there is a beast. Maybe it’s just us.”

In the 1950s during a war, a plane full of schoolboys crashes into an uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. With no adults left alive, the surviving children are left to recreate society, forming their own rules and hierarchies. It isn’t long until these boys descend into pure chaos and violence.

First developed as a novel in 1954 by William Golding, then a Peter Brook film, Lord of the Flies takes a hard look at the line between animal and human and at how our humanity starts to wear away once we lose our civilisation. Ahead of its time, it also shines a light on toxic masculinity and how negative characteristics and behaviours transfer to our children - these boys begin to mimic what they’ve seen other men do, and the result is brutal and harrowing. Now adapted for the stage, the piece takes on a new life at Sydney Theatre Company under the direction of Artistic Director Kip Williams.

The first thing you notice about this production is the cast: Sydney Theatre Company has stepped into 2019 and brought with them a team of the country’s best emerging artists: Joseph Althouse, Justin Amankwah, Nyx Calder, Yerin Ha, Daniel Monks, Mark Paguio, Rahel Romahn, Eliza Scanlan, Contessa Treffone and Nikita Waldron. Even next to Mia Wasikowsa, each of these actors owns the space and demands the attention of the audience. This is a powerful, exciting ensemble to watch.

Exciting as well is the use of space: set designer Elizabeth Gadsby presents us with a bare stage, flanked with scaffolding and various backstage containers for the actors to play with. This is their playground, and as the show unfolds we are invited to suspend our disbelief and join in with the childish fantasy each of the boys’ creates. The most outstanding part of the scenic design is Alexander Berlage’s versatile lighting rig, which descends from the roof and shifts through a rainbow of colours to create mountains, oceans, everywhere the boys travel across the island. The lighting bars even become weapons, the actors detaching them from the cables to create a visceral image of violence and glowing red right at the climax of the play. These lights are commanding and all-encompassing, taking over the stage as reality starts to pierce through the boys’ deluded fantasy.

Shining through the all-encompassing set were a number of performers, some of which were making their Sydney Theatre Company debut: Contessa Treffone and Mia Wasikowsa butt heads as rivals Jack and Ralph, and Rahel Romahn is breathtaking as Piggy, the boy who meets a dark fate at the hands of Jack’s gang. Amongst the strong performances however, something feels amiss. So many voices are lost at the beginning of the performance, swallowed up by the huge space, and the excited chatter of the ensemble overlapping each other means much of the fast-paced dialogue early on is lost.

Sydney Theatre Company’s Lord of the Flies is an exciting work to come out of their 2019 program and highlights the phenomenal pool of emerging talent Sydney has to offer. Although parts felt lacking in direction, the ensemble pulled together to retell a story that feels as relevant and engaging as it did in 1954. They are unflinching in their performances, and because of them, the show shines.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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