Review: Lord of the Flies (Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts)

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An all-female cast lead this new version of Lord of the Flies at Toronto’s Annex Theatre

Most of us probably remember sitting in English class, picking apart William Golding’s allegorical novel Lord of the Flies. For me, it was the first time I consciously realized (in a thinky-thinky way) just how complex stories can be.

As originally written, the story concerns a group of English schoolboys who are marooned on an island when their plane is shot down. Randolph Academy’s production, currently playing at the Annex Theatre, has an all-female cast.

Going in, I was intrigued yet dubious. Would the casting draw attention to itself? Would it be commenting on gender politics? I find such devices irritating because they usually warp stories to suit an agenda rather than offer genuine insight. But here, the gender switch is not a gimmick; it’s not about gender, nor should it be—this examination of civilization versus savage instinct.

The all-too-familiar story is presented in a way that, on the surface, seems different from what I’m used to, and I was inspired to pay close attention. It is easy to get too comfortable with all of the symbolism that was hammered into my head back in ninth grade. Of course, those themes and symbols are still there and vital, but I was able to appreciate them with fresh eyes.

The story goes like this: After these stranded children have assessed their situation, they break off into two groups, each with its own leader. Ralph wants to hold meetings, build shelters and plan their rescue. Jack wants to hunt for meat and survive through instinct, resorting to violence when her impulses are challenged. Isolated from school, parents and the law, their situation quickly deteriorates into a brutal fight for survival.

I won’t bore you with any in-depth analysis. Either you’ve had it drilled into your brain years ago or you’ll have the chance to unpack it for the first time with this rich and persuasive production.

The theatre is transformed into an immense jungle with a cascade of earth tone fabric. Animal cries and and drumming come from all directions. These acoustic sounds are perfectly woven into the action. They seem so organic and yet perfectly timed to emphasize key dramatic moments.

And there’s a pig carcass that is disturbingly realistic. I swear, I could actually smell it! Overall, the production, with its abundant atmosphere, does a fine job of placing you in the wilderness.

The performances are stylized, especially the violence. There is a ritualistic feel to most of the action. Whether it’s the celebration after a kill or an attempt at civilized negotiation, the voices and movement feel… weighty. There are times when some of the background action is stilted (people not knowing what to do with their prop-less hands), but overall, this heaviness suits the play.

What seems completely natural is this cast’s transformation from civilized children to screeching animals. I shuddered with excitement and discomfort as Jack’s hunters paint their faces with pig’s blood. It thrilled some animal part of me, and I caught myself trying to hide it.

That tension is at the core of this story. When these young women are finally confronted with the consequences of their descent, we must acknowledge our own less-than-civilized urges.

Randolph Academy’s Lord of the Flies is a vibrant production. If you’ve studied the novel to death, the all-female casting should be refreshing. If you’ve never read a single page of it, then this will be an exciting introduction to the classic.

Details:

  • Lord of the Flies is playing at Annex Theatre (730 Bathurst Street) until March 22
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8PM, with Saturday Matinee at 2PM
  • Tickets are $22
  • Tickets can be purchased by calling 1-855-985-2787 or at ticketmaster.ca

 Photo of the company by Raph Nogal

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