Three recent trips to the theatre in Edinburgh, three audiences packed with school students. It’s enough to invite gloomy thoughts about the future of classics like Huxley’s Brave New World and William Golding’s Lord Of the Flies – or of bold new plays that tackle similar big questions about the future of our civilisation, like Marius von Mayenburg’s Martyr at the Traverse – if unaccompanied adults have all but given up on them, and attendance has become entirely a matter of educational duty.
Whatever the audience, though, there’s still no doubt about the searing impact of William Golding’s 1954 masterpiece, in which a group of British schoolboys, stranded on a Pacific island after a plane crash, rapidly become a microcosm of a civilisation reverting within weeks to a culture based on savage violence, leader-worship and superstition.
Nigel Williams’s new version for the Regent’s Park Theatre, London – now on tour across the UK and Ireland – deftly updates the text to the age of mobile phones and I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. And although there may have been times in the past 60 years when Britain seemed to be moving beyond Golding’s portrait of a civil society betrayed by a ruthless boss-class with an exaggerated sense of entitlement, his adaptation fits the mood of current British politics like a glove, as the thoughtful elected leader Ralph – a bit of an Ed Miliband lookalike – is jeered and hunted almost to death by an opposing team who believe in big weapons, imaginary enemies, and obedience to those who were born to lead.
So under the shadow of the gradually fading Union flag on the tailplane of the wrecked aircraft, director Timothy Sheader’s cast of 11 fight, bully and plead their way through Golding’s horrifying story, often expressed here through long, dramatic fight and movement sequences which alternate sharply between natural pace and slow motion, and are sometimes as confusing as they are over-extended.
There’s an impressive set by John Bausor, though, and some terrific, momentous sound by Nick Powell; and if Freddie Watkins’s Jack, the leader of the warrior gang, is a shade too petulant and frenetic to convince, Luke Ward-Wilkinson and Anthony Roberts just about hold it together as Ralph and Piggy, the two boys who retain some memory of what a peaceful civil society should be, and who cling to the conch shell that symbolises that possibility of democracy and debate, until the moment when it is trampled into dust.
Final performances today.