The ballet of barbarism

dramatic picture of Lord of the Flies Cast

Lord of the Flies

Birmingham Hippodrome

Part of International Dance Festival Birmingham 2014


WILLIAM Golding’s classic 1954 novel involved a group of schoolboys, the only survivors of a plane crash, marooned on an uninhabited island.

There are random ordinary pupils who don’t know each other, and a boy’s choir who obviously do and the novel charts the changing allegiances and factions as groups evolve into warring tribes.

What set out as an exercise in survival descends into a terrifying dystopia of savagery and ever increasing brutality including murder until a final manhunt for a deposed leader sets the island aflame attracting a passing naval ship and rescue. A rescue which sees the boys realise in horror what they have become and what they have done.

Matthew Bourne, as always, has brought his own take to the story with the island setting being transformed to what we are told is an abandoned theatre in an urban landscape where a group of schoolboys escape what sounds like a riot going on outside by entering the roller shutter get-in doors of the theatre. section of the Lord of the Flies poster

It could equally be seen as an abandoned clothing warehouse, as some people beloved it to be, that hardly matters though, they were trapped in some empty and unfriendly industrial shed.

It is a stark set, created by Bourne’s long time designer Lez Brotherston with wicker skips, costumes on rails and piled stage blocks all dramatically lit by Chris Davey.

From schoolboy to savage in one easy dance

In the book it is a conch shell which becomes the symbol of authority controlled first by Ralph, danced by Dominic North and Piggy, danced by Sam Plant. Here it is a bass drum stick with which to create a booming call on oil drums.

Challenging Ralph is Jack, danced by Danny Reubens, who’s followers are marked out by hoodies.

The real innovation in the production is the way Bourne has mixed eight professionals with 22 amateurs selected from auditions around the West Midlands, not that the amateur status was immediately apparent in what they were asked to do and the ensemble performed admirably.

If there were mistakes they were not spotted and that, as any old pro will tell you, is the real secret.

It is difficult in dance, in a programme lasting less than two hours, to get across the nuances, psychological triggers and the terrors and horrors of Golding’s vision of what happens when people are left to govern themselves. The narrative is mental as much as physical. 

But the adaptation and direction from Bourne and co-director and choreographer Scott Ambler, manages to give us give us a dark, harsh albeit simplified version.

The dancing is aggressive and often gladiatorial, there are fights, scenes of bullying violence and a steady increase of the numbers in hoodies until the now abandoned society has collapsed into bare chests, war paint and makeshift spears – civilisation to savage in less than two hours including interval.

We even have the pigs head on a pole, the Lord of the Flies of the book.

Wild pig hunting in the book though is replaced by raiding the theatre kiosk for ice creams and crisps – which, if one is honest, doesn’t quite have the terror or symbolism of a pig hunted down slaughtered with spears, but then again theatres, even abandoned ones, have never been known for their wild boar populations.The sinister hooded tribe in Lord of the Ring

Music by Terry Davies is harsh and pulsating, none of your rhapsodies and melodies here my son, it swings between aggressive and almost despairing as the tale of underlying terror unfolds. At times it is the music of wasteland – a mention here for excellent cellist Nick Allen who appeared to have the pit all to himself.

Instead of rescue by naval officers here the rescue is affected by a sole UN peacekeeper, whether he is needed for inside or outside the locked roller shutter door is a moot point but under his watchful eye the savages return to schoolboys and slowly, warily, leave, one by one - no longer a tribe.


The hoods lend a sinister air to the dominant and most brutal tribe


There is nothing of beauty nor anything to lift the human spirit about Lord of the Flies but it is always engaging and fascinating to watch. It does not have the wow factor of other Bourne productions but that, perhaps, was never its point, this is a community dance piece,  a production designed to attract and involve young men, aged from 10 to 20 in this case, and many more who attended workshops, auditions and rehearsals, and introduce them to the world of professional dance 

Professionals in the show, who also included Layton Williams as Simon, Dan Wright as Roger, Jack Hazelton as Maurice, Luke Murphy as Sam and Leon Moran as Eric, were spotted mainly by their more complex dance roles and technical skills but the amateurs, many already taking various theatre craft courses, did what was asked wonderfully well and did not let Bourne’s vision down. 

The concept has been brought to the stage through his New Adventures Re-Bourne educational arm and if dance had an Ofsted then an excellent rating might well go on the noticeboard. To 17-05-14.

Roger Clarke




Contents page Hippodrome Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre