On a cold and rainy September evening in Hove, warm yellow light floods a stage strewn with leaves, branches and aeroplane parts. This is the island, and it is our home for the next hour or so. This performance, comprised entirely of youth actors from various groups around Brighton, is completely immersive and impressive: at many points I forget we are watching children as young as eight performing this piece, such is the quality of the acting.
The play follows the plight of a number of schoolboys, stranded on a remote island in the South Pacific, desperately trying to decide – and agree – on the “right” way to govern this paradise they are unwittingly thrust into. Every character in this piece is well-formed and performed with confidence and competence. Dialogue is sharp and very well projected: no mean feat in an open-air theatre, situated in a fairly busy area. The actors evidently know the play incredibly well, and manage to deliver a fantastic performance even in the face of some less-than-ideal weather.
This is a slick performance, with very likeable personalities from the young actors shining through the decades old characters of Golding’s classic novel. Particularly heart-warming are some genuinely funny moments, some intentional, some perhaps not so, that provide much-needed comic relief for the shivering audience. Just as the drizzle which has been threatening the performance from the outset takes a turn for the torrential, one of the twins utters a line – without even a hint of irony – about the importance of building shelters on the island, just in case it happens to rain.
The choreography of the performance is incredibly impressive, with one particular sequence sticking out in my mind as the most climactic and dramatic point of the entire play. Simon’s murder – an incredibly gruesome and affecting element of Golding’s novel – is revealed with exactly the right amount of horror, but also with genuine dramatic intrigue and composition. With a fantastic element of physical theatre in the form of a dizzying lift, and almost hypnotic movement, this particular sequence is enthralling. It is dark, but not gratuitous, and extremely moving.
Costume and makeup are a triumph in this performance, representing the descent of the well-behaved schoolboys into misrule and savagery. Previously smart shirts disappear, or become ripped and adorned with bloody handprints: ties go from Windsor knots to headbands. As the boys split into two factions – representing order and disorder – the rebellious and increasingly barbaric sect are easily identifiable with large dark rings around their eyes. As Simon describes seeing what he believes to be the beast that inhabits the island, he mentions that it “had great big black eyes”. At this moment, with the “lost boys” in a freeze frame on the far side of the stage, the audience begins to realise that the lines between good and evil, civilised and savage, boy and beast, are not as black and white as we might like to think. Is there a beast? Is it just us? This theatrical adaptation thoughtfully, subtly and adeptly raises these questions.
What is ultimately clear in abundance is the amount of fun these young performers are having on stage. When the rain becomes torrential and audience members start putting up umbrellas, zipping jackets and protecting tins of gin and tonic, the actors carry on – completely unperturbed and seemingly unaware of the chaos around them.
Just after the interval, the weather conditions become so treacherous that the performance unfortunately had to be called off, such is the policy of Brighton Open Air Theatre. Even at this point, the cast seems loath to stop their play, regardless of the fact that many of them are in various states of undress, and undoubtedly freezing cold. For this, as well as the quality of the entire performance as a whole, these young actors have my utmost respect. The show must go on, as they say. But even when it doesn’t? It’s still a fantastic show.
Featured Image: Brighton Open Air Theatre Press Release