Allegorical excellence

Lord of the Flies (Beenleigh Theatre Group)

Crete Street Theatre

January 19 – February 3

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Appropriately heralded by an air raid siren, audience members at The Beenleigh Theatre Group’s “Lord of the Flies” enter to an opening scene of schoolboys on a plane trip somewhere. Happily, they jaunt along to the sounds of ‘Run Rabbit Run’ in juxtaposition to the brutality of what is to come as in a stylised scene, they are crashed to an island.

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The group of boys from a mix of schools survive the crash, but find themselves deserted in the uninhabited location. Without adult supervision or guidance, they struggle in their abandon. The very-British and intelligent Piggy (Levi Rayner) advocates democratic rule and order through the symbolic use of a conch shell, but is disregarded by the others due to his physical deficiencies and muddle of words. Ralph (Jayden McGinlay), meanwhile, begins with an air of carefree adventure before becoming an initial leader. While his sensible priority is to maintain a signal fire (started by Piggy’s surrendered glasses), antagonist Jack (Nic Van Litsenborgh), a militant choir leader, is intent on hunting, using his chants to stir those in his tribe towards a savagery of self-indulgence in the absence of social mores and control to the contrary.

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Without societal or adult influence, the boys decide upon their own rules in initial attempts at remaining civilised but soon order begins to break down and barbarism starts to take over with the boys reverted to their base instincts under Jack’s autocratic leadership. And when anarchy reins, things move quickly; the boys’ uniforms are soon dishevelled as shirts come off, faces are war-painted and school ties become headbands and buffs “Survivor” style, in show of their decline into cruelty.

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William Golding’s 1954 classic but verbose story of civilisation in reverse clearly relies on some significant themes with its allegory about human impulse towards savagery. And its cast of adolescent boys more than rise to the occasion in their representation of Nobel Prize winning work. As the touted protagonist, reasonable and well-intentioned Ralph, McGinlay takes audiences on a tempered journey from boyish charm to deep despair in desperation to cling to his ideals.

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As his antithesis, Jack, Van Litsenborgh dominates with a gripping performance of menacing physicality and imposing vocals, especially in Act Two when he is appointed as the Chief. Although nobody from his choir boys faints under his initial command to march in line, he presents as a tantrum-throwing bully from the start in his antagonism of the whimpering Piggy, who appears more as a caricature than naïve intellectual.

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Other standouts include Elliot Hanscomb and Fraser Anderson as twins Samneric, especially in their attempts at rationalisation about the feared ‘beast’ in the jungle (really a dead parachutist hanging from its trees). And Liam Pert is an excellent Simon, understated in his essential symbolism of spirituality and human goodness, although his connection with nature and insight into mankind’s essential illness of latent evil is largely restrained.

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“Lord of the Flies” is a difficult play to stage, yet with minimalist set this imagining works well, allowing a lot of the intended symbolism to speak freely. Wood crates become multi-use props and multiple levels allow for action to take place in a variety of the island’s locations. Inventively, some of the most intense action takes place not on the stage, but on the carpeted area just in front of the audience, creating an intentionally uneasy intimacy during a viciously bloodthirsty scene in which a pig is ritualistically hunted and its head symbolically impaled upon a stick. Fighting scenes (choreographed by Justin Palazzo-Orr) work well, lighting accompanies stylised slow motion movements and a dynamic soundscape effectively signposts the boys’ decent to savagery.

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Under Bradley Chapman’s direction, Beenleigh Theatre Group have produced an excellent and entertaining production of a challenging text. It not only does justice to the main themes of Golding’s tale, but it intensely illustrates how even over six decades later, aspects of its themes remain relevant through its show of the extreme consequences of peer pressure unchecked. Is evil inherent in human nature or is it a learned trait? This is a question audience members will perhaps still be left pondering after the play, lingering in recall as is the case in experience of all the best types of theatre.

Photos – c/o Turn It Up Photography