theatre Lord of the Flies, RSC The Other Place Paul Taylor says the boys are great, but what might Britten have made of it?

Paul Taylor says the boys are great, but what might Britten have made of it?
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The Independent Culture
The doors of the Other Place burst open, letting in a dazzling golden effulgence from which strides a burly naval officer wearing a blindingly immaculate white uniform. "I should have thought that a pack of British boys would have been able to put up a better show than that," he remarks disappointedly to the gaggle of war-painted, half-naked young savages before him.

This moment, near the end of Nigel Williams's stage adaptation is one of the few where you feel that theatrical convention has something to add to one's perception of Golding's potent allegory about the loss of innocence and the decline of British civilisation. Partly, this is because, when dramatised, the officer's last-minute entry brings with it echoes of Fortinbras's arrival at the end of Hamlet. You feel the same pang of frustration that so much of what has been suffered on stage by the central consciousness (here that of Ralph) cannot and will not be comprehended by the limited figure who takes final control.

Partly, the moment works because, in this production, the boy actors offer a political image that's consolingly contrary to that afforded by the characters they play. Instead of moral collapse before the forces of unreason and irresponsible power-mania, they represent the merits of imagination tempered by order, discipline and co-operation: a synthesis of what is best in the opposing principles in the piece. We see how a pack of British boys can put up a very good show indeed.

Under Elijah Moshinsky's expert direction, 32 youths, who range from shrimpy little 11-year-olds to mid-teen beanpoles, have achieved extraordinary levels of concentration as they trace the split-up of the castaways into beleaguered decency versus blood-lusting savagery. Exuding arrogance and a dark, cruel charisma, Marc Elliot is authentically terrifying as Jack, under whose demonic influence the boys switch from democratic meetings to the pack-mentality of ululating, stave-wielding hunts. Skilfully showing the disintegration of one of nature's head boys, Daniel Brocklebank's Ralph breaks the heart in another fine interpolated moment when, at the end, Jack contemptuously tosses him the spectacles that had belonged to Christopher Hudson's excellent Piggy. In his harrowing sobs, you hear guilt and the desolate pining for an undefiled state to which Ralph can never return.

I wish I could be as enthusiastic about the adaptation and the severe design, but they convince me that the only way of penetrating this book in theatrical terms - to evoke both the beauty of the island and the value of Simon's incommunicable inner world (badly botched, though by the script not the actor, in this version) - is through opera, and that Benjamin Britten, who was obsessed with both the loss of innocence and with young boys, would have been the one to write it. This over-schematic adaptation, with its tweakings and small but schoolmasterly changes, makes you feel that, instead of a haunting experience, you've been given a civics lesson.

Stratford upon Avon; 'Lord of the Flies' runs until 7 September (Booking: 01789 295623)