Tuesday, August 13, 2019
Lord of the Flies
Sydney Theatre Company presents William Golding's LORD OF THE FLIES, adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams. At the Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay.. July 23 - August 24.
I had just finished my schooling in a traditional Catholic school and was investigating what 'real' life was like outside the indoctrinations of that institution, at Teacher's College and University. I was only 16 turning 17 but even then I had become a cinema addict - escaping real life?, how immaturely ironic, eh? - and although my breeding, of late, was mostly school holiday Disney or Jerry Lewis comedies (except, of course, the free-to-air television repertoire), I took myself off to one of the 'risqué' Cinema Art Houses (The Savoy?) I had read about in The Daily Mirror, in Sydney, in 1965 (or so), to see a controversial-near-banned film by a famous British theatre Director, Peter Brook, called: LORD OF THE FLIES.
It was in a 'contemporary' in-yer-face black-and white mode with some very young boys who had never acted before - the film is/was very emotionally raw and scary. I had not read the novel - imagine, having it in our Catholic school library! - so, the film was a total shock to my system. Probably, because I recognised the bullying and the violence in my own classroom and school in the graphic detail on that screen. And, although, in the scenario of the LORD OF THE FLIES it was taken to truly grotesque extremes it was, for me, no exaggeration of possibility - what happened in that film could of happened in my own classroom - to some degree did happen (I wonder what ever happened to Peter Hooker?). I identified, I think, as "Piggy", the quintessential outsider, respected by the dominant group but not quite trusted.
LORD OF THE FLIES was a traumatic experience and my fear of the piercing of the thin veneer of 'good' behaviour has always been part of my risk assessment when contemplating the investigation of exploring new environments, new acquaintances. Can you imagine how much further I was disturbed when watching in 1968/69 Lindsay Anderson's film IF, starring Malcolm McDowell (add awakening sexual tensions, mine and their's), and, in 1971 with McDowell again, in Stanley Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and those Droogs, particularly, because I felt I was surrounded by them in the Barclay Cinema , they are hooning the rape scenes! I had to slink unnoticed out of the theatre for fear of unwanted attention and skid-daddled up George St.
In William Golding's novel, a group of snotty-nosed primary school boys (6-12 year olds) survive a plane crash on an island and grapple with how to behave. They do not do well. Mr Brook's version captured that well.
Kip Willliam's has a group of eleven young adult actors of all contemporary 'gender' in contemporary rehearsal clothing (Costume Design, by Marg Horwell)- in their 20's - gathered onto the empty stage space of the Roslyn Packer Theatre, with some pieces of scenery, and, later, found properties (Set Design, Elizabeth Gadsby), that will be manipulated in improvisation, as they explore, within the boundaries of the theatre adaptation of the novel by Nigel Williams (2005), some of the premises, as it occurs to them, of the novel.
After the lights go down in the auditorium, a series of mimed actions signal us into the crashing of a plane onto an isolated island, with the actors marauding, flocking, the stage in fiercely physical states. We meet, Mia Wasikowska, who identifies as sensible, Ralph, as he buddies up with be-spectacled, wise "Piggy", inhabited by Rahel Romahn who carries the conch of debate/reason. Then, actor Contessa Treffone, who identifies as Jack, the head bully of the troupe, aggressively barges into the scene and in a vocal volume of 9.5 decibels claims leadership and directs the honing of spears to kill the' beast'. Jack breaks the stranded island collective into two factions/ two tribes, and as the synopsis breakdown in the STC program warns us: "More than just pig's blood will be spilled before long."
Ms Treffone, under the Direction (permission) of Kip Williams takes charge at 9.5 decibels in the first 15 minutes, or so, of the performance, that will be given without interval for one hour and fifty-five minutes. I cogitated that if you begin at 9.5 decibels there is very little room for nuance of expression or energy for the rest of the night. Ms Treffone takes us swiftly, unerringly. into bullying chaos and then sustains it for the rest of the night. Her stamina is breathtaking, I wished, as an audience member, I could have stayed interested enough to sustain it with her. It wearied me, mightily, and I couldn't. Looking back at Ms Treffone's offers in past production it seems to be her her go-to choice for solving most of her characterisations: an 100% energy effort.
Just what this production has to say to us in the Roslyn Packer Theatre is not rendered with clarity for it is, mostly, just a blaring kind of overwhelming noise. For Jack's allies follow, taking their performance mode from his example of a kind of a long-sustained hysteric mania: Justin Amankwah (Henry), Nyx Calder, (Bill), Yerin Ha (Maurice), Mark Paguio (Sam), Eliza Scanlen (Eric) and Nikita Waldron (Percival), and differently, Joseph Althouse (Simon). They all appeared to be having a terrific time.
It was a relief to have Mia Wasikowska (in her debut theatre role) as some kind of ballast to the bombastics of Ms Treffone and her allies. Her powerful stilled presence and unfussy reading of Ralph is a life raft of sanity throughout the night. This is supported by Rahel Romahn as Piggy. Mr Romahn is so centered, witty and intelligent, apparently, an infinite well of compassion, that all of his work remains with one in one's consciousness when one meets again.
This is the third (or fourth?) production of this text by Mr Williams - I have seen two of them - and I don't know if Mr Williams has ever revealed just what he wants to tell us or make it evident why this is a story that we must see now. He is mightily obsessed. The washing machine chaos on the Packer stage is memorable for me, for the spectacle of the Lighting Design of Alex Berlage - who, as we know is a very interesting Director, as well. The floating fluorescents and the patterns of image, that he creates are arresting and distracting in their contribution to the night as the production descends into more and more mess. All that noise, all that movement, all of that gloom, all of that distracting lighting spectacle that leaves most of us asking, "What the f.ck is happening?"
There are better ways to spend your time and money, I reckon. I, personally, believe it is hard to beat the impression of the Peter Brook cinematic rendering if you don't want to read the novel to grasp Mr Goldings insight to our species.