Theatre: It's the flux that's the thing

The Street of Crocodiles Queen's Theatre, W1 Lord of the Flies Lyric Hammersmith, W6 Measure for Measure Barbican, EC2

John Updike described Bruno Schulz as "one of the great transmogrifiers of the world". No theatre company is better suited to having a go at magical transformation than Theatre de Complicite. Fifty years after Bruno Schulz's death, Simon McBurney and Mark Wheatley adapted Schulz's stories for The Street of Crocodiles, which opened at the National in 1992 and toured everywhere, from Australia to Iceland to Lithuania, picking up awards en route. It now brings transmogrification to a place where it's badly needed: the West End.

Schulz was shot by a Nazi officer in 1942. He had taught art in a secondary school for boys at Drohobycz, in south-eastern Poland, and written Cinnamon Shops and Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass. Complicite have drawn on both his life and the stories. Schulz's last job was to catalogue books for the Nazis. In the opening scene we see Joseph (Cesar Sarachu) in a dank warehouse inspecting books and listening to the approach of marching steps.

In a coup de theatre, we see Joseph seated downstage opening a book, while another actor literally walks down the back wall of the theatre, as if it were a street. We visit the boisterous schoolroom, where he vainly tries to establish discipline while teaching woodwork, the drapery shop where his father rolls out cloth, the family dinner table, and the attic, where his father kept an aviary. The classroom desks shift into endless combinations as, in these scenes of provincial Poland, McBurney and his company conjure up a hallucinatory and multi-layered picture of boredom, loneliness and sexual longing.

It isn't always easy to follow. "Matter is in a state of constant fermentation," says the father, played with inspired eccentricity and sober dignity by Matthew Scurfield, "it never holds the same shape for very long". This fluidity lies at the heart of the piece, which draws its energy from the swift and ingenious visual transitions, as books turn into fluttering birds or the cast transform themselves in to passengers in a railway carriage. The company can move as one. Or each of the characters can be sharply realised with a feverish colour. As Uncle Charles, Clive Mendus has a lovely light-footed pomposity, drawing a parallel between "Alexander the Great and my modest self". Bronagh Gallagher brings a vibrant sensuality to the assertive maid Adela. And Cesar Sarachu is superb as the central figure, Joseph. His wonderfully angular face registers each shift in mood with Prufrockian bewilderment.

The Street of Crocodiles is painstakingly wrought, magically lit (by Paule Constable) and deftly staged. If it has a single failing, then this is it. The unrelenting expertise on display makes this tour de force, for all its inventiveness, a work we admire from a distance, and with detachment.

The night I saw Nigel Williams's stage adaptation of Lord of the Flies, the audience was almost entirely made up of teenage girls. You might think they wouldn't be very interested in a story that's exclusively about boys. Or you might think they wouldn't be very interested in anything else. Either way, they were certainly interested in passing exams. Golding is a set text.

In Williams's brisk and effective adaptation (which runs two hours, with an interval) we speed through the novel, ticking off major scenes like tourists on a package holiday. The passage of time may be hard to catch, but this adaptation is a perfect accompaniment to studying the book. The central themes emerge starkly.

A plane crashes on an island, and only the boys survive as the adults have unwisely sat up at the front. "This isn't kids stuff," says Ralph (Jonah Russell), as they settle down to discuss leadership, "this is serious". It's just as well Ralph makes this clear as none of the actors look like kids. But then the island doesn't look like an island either. Thankfully, in Marcus Romer's pugnacious production, there are no picture-postcard images of sandy beaches, golden sunsets or palm trees. The slatted backdrop to the island, which ripples with cold reflected light, suggests an abattoir.

In this cruel industrial atmosphere the battered hulk of the plane serves as a climbing frame and one wing of plane moves up and down like a see- saw. A constant pulsating soundtrack, automaton dance routines and flashing lights give this production a techno energy without overdoing the sense of here and now. Only when Jack laboriously cuts off the head of the pig (to gleeful groans from the audience) does dull literalism intrude.

After the crash, the changes in costume mark the boys' descent into savagery: caps give ways to berets, ties become headbands, and blazers are replaced with war paint across the chest. The cast bring plenty of attack to these roles, skilfully marking out their individual characters, while giving a strong sense of a group that splinters into two.

This is an impressive touring production from the Pilot Theatre Company, which backs up its production with its own educational CD-Rom (stuck to the cover of the programme), a website, and an e-mail address. And that's something the Royal National Theatre hasn't got round to yet.

Michael Boyd's Measure for Measure, which has moved to the Barbican from Stratford, opens with Robert Glenister's anguished Duke doing a bunk and leaving his opening speech as a message to be played on an old phonograph. It's a turn-of-the-century equivalent to "Your mission, Jim, if you choose to accept it, is to clean up the streets of Vienna." Disappointingly, the phonograph doesn't self-destruct in five seconds.

Boyd's production scores most when it ditches this persistent vein of tricksiness and allows the cast to pinpoint the powerful shifts in thought. This they do well. Stephen Boxer anchors the evening with a chilly and intelligent Angelo. Adrian Schiller is a sharp and dissolute Lucio and Jimmy Chisholm a camp Pompey. Vienna itself remains a blank. Tom Piper's designs of a high staircase and bleached panelling offer little distinction between council chamber, brothel and prison.

`Crocodiles': Queen's, W1 (0171 494 5040), to 6 February; `Flies': Lyric, W6 (0181 741 2311), to 6 February; `Measure for Measure': Barbican, EC2 (0171 638 8891), in rep to 11 March.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor