Adapting Lord of the Flies into a piece of musical theatre does make sense. From the first emergence of the choristers to the final, dark chanting, even the least charitable reader would concede that the journey of the schoolboy castaways is at inherently rhythmic, if not musical already. Joanne Pearce, Shaun Davey and Adrian Noble have adapted the book from this viewpoint, building and honing the choral edge of the story into a fully blown musical, which had its ‘World Premiere’ at the Playhouse last Friday, as part of the MCS Arts Festival.
I should declare an interest before continuing, I did go to MCS myself, and in fact appeared in the last, rather less ambitious production that the school did of Lord of the Flies (an all boys school with choristers will inevitably turn to Golding on a regular basis). It’s clear to see that since my time there has been considerable growth in the school’s drama department, and the ‘Theatre Academy’ has attracted some really quite talented boys who didn’t seem in the least bit fazed by this rather ambitious task.
The conversion to a musical does nothing to mask the chilling effect of the story; for the most part the adapters have stayed remarkably faithful to the wording of the book in their lyrics as well as the spoken dialogue, to their credit. The role of Ralph bears even more of the focus of the story, which Conor Diamond dealt with well, Barney Shekleton was a menacing antagonist as Jack and Hugh Tappin was classic Piggy all the way through, just the right side of bumbling to be initially adorable, but then sliding towards tiresome as the rest of the boys get increasingly out of hand. The musical performance of all the boys is to be commended, I think with the exception of ‘Kill the Pig, cut her throat, bash her in’, every song represented at least a bit of a challenge, and Shaun Davey’s tunes do have a good degree of stickibility, which is key in a new musical.
It wasn’t without fault though - towards the end of Act 2, Ralph ends up narrating two passages, which is a bit lazy, and wouldn’t be noticeable if he did it earlier, but really he just ends up walking forward into a slightly different coloured spotlight and starts narrating – odd. The biggest problem for me was the title character. The Lord of the Flies (or Beelzebub if you’re of a Hebrew bent) is in my book a formless swarm of madness, not Fagin with a band of gas-mask wearing children. If it weren’t for the fact that his songs were great, and Albert McIntosh nailed them, it could’ve ruined the whole thing, in my opinion.
Those are two clear points, and there are one or two others, where I felt the adaptation is still muddled and at times confusing. However the performance and staging of it were magnificent, and that is rare indeed in a project this ambitious.