The price of life on demons' island

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IS IT possible to create a stage version of Lord of the Flies that doesn't diminish Golding's intense fable of crash-landed schoolboys reverting to savagery on an idyllic island?

The author always maintained that the chief problem was whether a theatrical performance could depict the process of boys becoming men. When the RSC staged Nigel Williams' adaptation, they used a cast of youngsters. In Marcus Romer's new production, the schoolboys are played, with shades of Dennis Potter's Blue Remembered Hills, by professional adult actors. Which approach works best?

A novel is free to play tricks with what you see in your mind's eye, a knack necessary with a book like Lord of the Flies where the characters' interior life, lurching into adulthood, begins to belie outward appearances. On stage, though, seeing is believing (and vice versa) and Romer's visceral production proves it is easier to incarnate the sense that the child is father of the man when you have men impersonating children.

Using a sound score that unsettlingly mixes heartbeats, primitive pantings, electronic radio crackles, the soft crash of breakers, and the thump of techno music, the production also ingeniously solves the problem of how to evoke the tropical island visually. The action is staged in the wrecked chrome skeleton of the plane in which the boys crash-landed: its hulk and queasily see-sawing wings provide a sort of morbid playground monologue for the cliffs and terrain on which the bloodlusting pighunt, the chases, the tribal dances and the toppling death of Piggy are thrillingly choreographed.

By not overdoing the prissy, pukka aspects of Golding's Fifties' schoolboys, the production valuably prevents its young audiences from dismissing them as an exotic species of no relevance. There are vivid individual performances, especially from Danny Nutt whose sneering, bullying, proto- Fascist, Jack, is like a study in demonic possession.

Pilot Theatre Company reveal in the programme that when the first reports of killings by children hit the headlines, Lord of the Flies became, for them, "the project to work on, because of the need to raise some of the issues involved". It is here that my qualms about Golding's book surface. The wittiest, most pointed objection to it was made by D J Enright who referred to its "soothing charm" - by which he meant that invoking original sin can be a way of shelving society's own culpability. It's very convenient, say, to demonise the child murderers of James Bulger. Perhaps alongside Lord of the Flies, schools could encourage teenagers to read As If, Blake Morrison's admirably sensitive examination of the Bulger affair.

Paul Taylor