In her new production of William Golding’s novel about societal collapse and power’s capacity to corrupt, director Emma Jordan has re-imagined the characters as young women. This makes sense – there are few things crueller than a schoolgirl – but the production doesn’t capitalise on this premise.
In Golding’s novel, unpopular on publication but now firmly established as a set text, a group of evacuee schoolboys on the cusp of adolescence are stranded on a remote island after a plane crash. It doesn’t take long for them to abandon any concept of social order and descend into “savagery”.
Jordan uses Nigel Williams’ 1996 adaptation in a staging that retains the characters’ male names but reframes them as female.
Lola Adaja – making her professional debut – plays Ralph, who initially takes on the mantle of leader, but it’s not long before her authority is challenged by Jack (Kate Lamb), a choir prefect, already accustomed to being top dog. Bespectacled Piggy (Gina Fillingham) initially tries to instil order. She suggests they hold meetings and try to put together a plan as to how to alert the world to the fact that they are trapped. But she’s mocked and ignored.
There are a handful of moments when the production feels like a fusion of Malory Towers and Lost (which is something I would definitely watch). The girls quickly form cliques. They ostracise and mercilessly bully Piggy for her size and Simon (a memorable turn by Olivia Marcus, also making her professional debut) for her idiosyncratic manner and the fact she’s epileptic.
The scenes in which the girls form packs to go hunting pigs and end up chanting and dancing and blooding each other with the arterial spillage from their kill have real potency. The conch shell that denotes authority looks not unlike a big vagina. But Jordan’s production fails to build on this rich imagery.
There’s a lack of tension and narrative clarity. The cast spends a lot of time clambering over James Perkins’ set – its poles and ramps successfully evoking a forested island environment – but less time establishing the complex power dynamics between the characters. It’s also unclear when this is taking place. The girls wear modern clothes, but it’s otherwise left vague as to which war they are fleeing.
Golding’s novel is made to feel more like an indictment of the English school system and its insistence on competitiveness and hierarchy than a tug-of-war between rationality and humanity’s baser urges, between order and chaos. Nor does it feel as if much attempt has been made to subvert or unpick the body-shaming and colonialist language that run through the text.
At the same time, Jordan’s female-led production makes it clear that violence, tribalism and a hunger for power are not – and have never been – the sole preserve of men.