LORD OF THE FLIES AT THE BIRMINGHAM HIPPODROME (International Dance Festival Birmingham)
Theatre Run: Wednesday 14 - Saturday 17 May 2014
Performance Reviewed: Thursday 15 May 2014 (Press Night)
Reviewed by Kyle Pedley
William Golding’s magnum opus, Lord of the Flies, remains one of the continuing tentpoles of English Literature, and naturally has thus been adapted to stage and screen in almost every possible iteration imaginable. The simplicity of it’s tale - a group of schoolboys find themselves deserted on a remote island and gradually resort to feral, primitive behaviour as they fight to survive - remains as potent as ever, and it’s exploration of the human condition, societal structure and innate feral regression makes it rich for dramatisation and adaptation across a wealth of different mediums and forms. It is exciting, then, to see it given such a biting, inventive and quite boldly visceral re-imagining, courtesy of acclaimed choreographer and dance director Matthew Bourne, as part of this years International Dance Festival Birmingham.
It is, naturally, pulled through a more contemporary spectrum, the island of the novel smartly replaced here with a deserted auditorium, and that’s just for starters, but the general trajectory of the plot and it’s key moments and inflections are all accounted for and brilliantly observed, even though the majority are given at times almost ingenious re-imaginings. Perhaps Lord of the Flies greatest achievement, though, is how wholly it tells its story and conveys its ethos and message exclusively through dance. Even within the more original adaptation work being done around it, there is no sacrifice to character, sentiment or overall impact - deaths register as brutal as ever, the decay of civilised behaviour and collapse of the initially ordered community is as gradually and meticulously charted as in the novel, and if anything given further clout by the foreboding physicality of some of the dancers and their accompanying choreography, the boyish joy and levity of the opening replaced with brutal brawling and clawing come the end. Everything here is stripped back, pure and raw, as befits the story being told, and married with an approach to choreography that is almost strictly narrative and progressive - there are few overt excesses or flourishes for the sake of indulgence, with even the showier dance moments mostly reserved for the more heightened, dramatic or climactic moments of the tale.
That’s not to say it skimps on audio or visual design. The staging is simplistic but effective, and the fairly barren, open aesthetic certainly enhances the initial sense of haunting isolation, which, when coupled with some subtle but clever use of levels, helps to make the presence of new arrivals or focal points such as a group fire and even a decapitated pigs head all the more imposing or standout amongst the company of over 30 boys. Chris Davey’s lighting, also, is characterful and evocative throughout, from more stripped back moments such as an ominous spotlight scouring the stage, washing light on the cast as they timidly avoid it and remind the audience that we are, after all, watching essentially a group of frightened and confused young men, through to the gradual hues of reds and golds becoming increasingly more profound as the feral violence and instincts begin to take prominence.
The cast assembled, including an ensemble of local, Midlands-based talent, do a wonderful job of bringing Golding’s tale to life, and there is a real naturalism and authenticity to their dance work. Their energy and commitment is at times almost astonishing, imbibing every scene with a pulsating tension or exuberance. It is in places deliberately erratic and loose, and you'll be particularly hard pushed to separate the trained professionals from the local talen. The variety and depth of talent, as well as the varying ages and sizes of characters and dancers all fosters a palpable sense of community which director Bourne and director/choreographer Scott Ambler amplify by peppering the stage with a number of minor set pieces and details throughout that makes the boys movement, behaviour and general presence feel all the more convincing. These aren’t big musical dance numbers, over-choreographed and subservient to the music, but rather something suitably far rawer and more primitive indeed, and it is at times rather captivating to watch, and never anything less than one would hope or expect for given the source material and story being told.
Brilliantly tapping in to the very raison d’etre of the original novel and bringing it to life with surprising confidence, a distinctive, visual approach and a soupcon of postmodern invention, Lord of the Flies is a resounding success. Those completely unfamiliar with the story being told here may potentially wish to acquit themselves with at least a brief overview of the plot, as some of the more enjoyable and experimental moments in this production may jar or temporarily confuse. But for those to whom that presents no such problem, then you will likely find extra mileage in the clever alterations and reworking done throughout (a particular favourite being the replacement for the novels character-slaying boulder). Regardless, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures and company have brought Lord of the Flies to life in brilliant, completely original fashion, and the result is a wholly absorbing, regularly thrilling and utterly recommendable dance extravaganza.
(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * * * (5 out of 5 Stars)
+ Inventive, original adaptation that captures the essence of the novel perfectly whilst allowing for some incredibly clever reworking
+ Highly fitting naturalism and rawness to the dance work
+ Doesn't over-indulge in it's choreography - perfectly pitched
+ Terrific audio-visual approach
+ Beautiful, haunting score and musical accompaniment
- May be a touch inaccessible in places for those unfamiliar with the original plot
LORD OF THE FLIES is running at the Birmingham Hippodrome from Wednesday 14 to Saturday 17 May 2014.
Alternatively, call Ticket Sales directly on 0844 338 5000 now to book your tickets!
For more information on the International Dance Festival Birmingham 2014, which is holding a broad programme of dance content across the city, including free performances, head on over to the Festival Website by clicking HERE.
Press tickets for this performance of Lord of the Flies were provided courtesy of the Birmingham Hippodrome directly. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.