A review of the play Lord of the Flies: Facing the Beast within Man | Sunday Observer

A review of the play Lord of the Flies: Facing the Beast within Man

11 March, 2018
A scene from the play

When the question – “Which school are you from?” was met with the answer “Does it matter”? I thought in silent amusement whether that line of thinking (and argument) could be applicable to the ‘Thomian credo’. But then the boys from S. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia who were on stage on the boards of the Wendt bringing to life a production of Lord of the Flies were meant to portray a scenario that was far removed from anything a schoolboy of these times and climes could imagine.

Seated in the gentle darkness of the Lionel Wendt auditorium on February 23, yours truly witnessed the opening night of the three day show run of Lord of the Flies presented by The English Drama Society S. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia. The opening night was well attended though not noticeably a full house. One does hope the succeeding days saw fuller houses as it was quite evident a lot of effort and passion had been invested by boys from the school by the sea.

There were no directorial credentials stated on the admission ticket as to who bore the mantle of ‘director’ in this production. One may surmise that the responsibility was borne by not one but several persons with possible active directorial guidance from the Teacher-In-Charge of the S. Thomas’s English Drama Society, Michelle Herft who herself is a much accomplished thespian of the English stage.

Lord of the Flies the stage play, is based on the novel of the same name by Nobel Prize winning author William Golding. Published in 1954, Golding’s novel is a dystopian story about a group of British schoolboys stranded on an island after surviving a plane crash.

It is a complex and disturbing exploration of the human psyche when faced with conditions that strip us of the comforts and constrictions of ‘civilization’. The story shows how the state of ‘statelessness’ creates primordial instincts to rise forth and throws the notion of ‘order’ into a flux. Lord of the Flies as a performance shows the Aristotelian truism of ‘Man by nature is a political animal’ and how being away from culture and more closer to nature makes the boys face the ‘animalism’ within them.

What the play shows is a tragic descent to barbarism by giving into the urge for savagery. It shows man’s innate weakness to lose sight of right and wrong when drunk with power. Lord of the Flies is a story that thematically deals with conceptions as survival, law, order, leadership and relationships. The fate that besieges the British schoolboys shows the rise of ‘the law of the jungle’ – survival of the fittest, when civilization is absent.

The boys get divided into two camps - one under Ralph, who values reason and civility, while the other under Jack, who champions brute strength and primordial desire. When Jack becomes the rallying call for the boys to become hunters and kill a boar out of need for sustenance and the bloodthirsty thrills of hunting, what he evokes is a facet of brutality that begins to soar frantically, drunk in its euphoric feeling of empowerment.

This feeling of power soon proves a deadly assault to the very crux of what makes man ‘human’. The wilderness in Jack’s conceptions is seen as both, a place with inhospitableness and adversity that calls out the challenge to be overcome while also being a place of opportunity for unbridled freedom for one who has the strength and audacity to take advantage of it. The wilderness in that sense is a place of dichotomy.

It is a strangulating dichotomy from which they cannot themselves escape unless rescued from the outside world – civilization. In looking for the mythical ‘beast’ of the jungle and grappling with the fierce wildlife and becoming more immersed in the world they are trapped in, the story reflects a vein of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical revelation – “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.

And, if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” The character of Jack is a prime example of how this theory of Nietzsche is given embodiment.

At the end, the arrival of the naval officer whose presence instantaneously disarms Jack’s vein and veneer of savageness signals the end of a ‘power trip’ that rode on the juvenile mindset of a boy wanting to be a man ‘larger than life’. Jack’s submission to the naval officer, an adult from the civilized world, shows a western perception of how civilization is a force of benevolence over what is feral and in need of controlling.

In one way, from a point of theoretical argument and philosophizing, one could say that what is seen through the arrival of the figure of civilization that marks the end of the boys’ predicament of trying to find order in the midst of chaos, is the intervention of culture upon a situation where nature was providing the basis for a company of human beings to fight their way to possibly evolve into higher, more rational beings. But of course, practically the likelihood of that small company of boys developing their own functioning society capable of evolving into a civilization of their own is nonexistent, mainly due to Jack’s reign of terror which marshals homicidal measures as a policy to subjugate the noncompliant.

And of course, the lack of females in that company shows clearly there is no chance for the boys on that island to be progenitors of a civilization spanning generations beyond them.

The story is in that sense, a fictional test as to how well British indoctrinations of (western) civilization can hold forte without wavering in the psychology of British younglings when thrust against the force of pristine nature, which presents both ferocity and freedoms not encountered in the ‘civilized world’. The Thomian production of Lord of the Flies displayed commendable stagecraft. Costumes and makeup were well done and deserve applause. Lighting and music too were appreciably executed. However, I feel the visual presence of the skeletal remains of the dead parachutist which forms a basis of the ‘beast’, could have been more pronounced and better projected to validate its spectral presence in the psyche of the boys.

The means devised at the commencement of the play using cinematic footage in tandem with the boys’ mimed action of travelling aboard an aircraft was a creative element that effectively depicted through a mixed media measure how the boys end up stranded on the island. On the acting front, it would be a fallacy if I were to say that the cast on stage created a fabric of performance woven with symmetry of acting talent. Leading characters such as, Ralph, Piggy and Jack were played by actors with more noticeable thespian vein, while it must be said that there was clear spiritedness in all the boys who formed the troupe. There was none on stage who didn’t ‘do his part’ so to say.

Upon my request Yohan Ferreira the founder and moderator of Drama Sri Lanka which was a Promotions Partner of this production sent me the list of the actors whose acting talents formed the casts who brought to life the three day show run of Lord of the Flies. I have thus included in this review the names provided me. Sebastian Sansoni, Akil Ismail, Anuk Dharmasena, Randev Jayasinha, Shilendra Hewawasm, Kiren Ranatunga, Tharuka Jayaratnam, Movin Jayasinha, Dhanuk Fernando, Viyaan Fernando, Shokeidh Billimoria, Anish De Silva, Abhishek Rambukpotha, Anish De Chickera, Dion Dias, Treshan Fernando, Anoushkha Weerackody, Linal Fernando, and Sandeep Tissaratchy.

There is no denying the promise of future thespian talent to emerge for the growing folds of Colombo centric English theatre was visible in this production. The English Drama Society of S. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia must be applauded for their production of Lord of the Flies.