Wednesday 8 October 2014

Dance review: Lord of the Flies

Sweaty topless dancing boys made Matthew Bourne's name when he first gender-flipped the swans in Swan Lake a couple of decades ago, and he obviously knows they still don't hurt if you've got tickets to sell. An obvious source of raging testosterone, though a less obvious choice for ballet, is a novel I studied at O'level, and I'll hazard a guess so did both the people reading this: William Golding's Lord of the Flies is rarely absent from the GCSE English curriculum. If by some chance you haven't read it, or did and have blocked it from your memory, it's the story of a group of schoolboys during World War II, who survive a plane crash that kills all the adults. Trapped on a desert island they follow very proper, English rules of behaviour led by Ralph (Sam Archer.) Until, that is, the rest of the boys realise these rules no longer apply to them, and the island descends into violence and chaos.

Bourne's updated version of the story dispenses with one of the most crucial parts of the story - the island. Instead, while some kind of apocalyptic riot rages outside, the boys seek refuge in the theatre itself. It's a theatre with no mobile signal (so you know it's a fantasy) and when the shutter falls behind them they're trapped on Lez Brotherston's minimal set.

As someone who knows nothing about dance, this meant for me the show became less about how the company interpreted the story through movement, more about how they'd make the plot points work in the new setting. Mostly it works reasonably well; the conch shell becomes a drumstick which the speaker holds, banging on an oil drum to make noise. With no sunlight Piggy's (Sam Plant) glasses can't be the source of fire, but he's got a cigarette lighter in his bag (it's always the asthmatics, isn't it?)

It's fun when Jack's (Danny Reubens) hunting party brings back a haul of interval crisps and ice creams, but later for the pig's head that gives the story its title, it seems an actual pig was roaming around waiting to be hunted - I guess one of the famous feral pigs that freely roam the streets of Islington must have snuck in. Either that or it was actually meant to be one of the littluns, which would rob Simon's (Layton Williams) accidental killing of its significance later on. Still, aside from requiring some even bigger suspension of disbelief than the original, the relocation is more successful than it has any right to be.

I think I've found my level of actual dance criticism, which is "I like it when they fling themselves around the stage and somersault over each other." I don't watch Strictly, but I assume that's the sort of thing Darcey Bussell says on a weekly basis. Bourne directs the show but the actual choreography is by Scott Ambler, and he does throw in lots of flinging and jumping near the end, so I liked that. The sadistic Roger's (Dan Wright) signature move of kicking his victims with both feet is well-executed too. The adult cast is just eight dancers but they're supplemented by a large Young Company of teenagers and kids playing the littluns, and sometimes the standard is barely distinguishable from the professionals'. It's a weird old show, but pretty fun, and Terry Davies' music is frequently haunting.

Lord of the Flies by Matthew Bourne, Scott Ambler and Terry Davies, based on the novel by William Golding, is booking until the 11th of October at Sadler's Wells' then continuing on tour to Cardiff, Newcastle, Norwich and Bradford.

Running time: 2 hours including interval.


  1. "I like it when they fling themselves around the stage and somersault over each other." - I'm going tomorrow,and always like to be armed with some good lines for interval braying!

    1. Maybe throw "entrechat" in there as well, that'll make you seem knowledgeable about ballet. Or possibly cross-stitch, I get those two confused.