It must be confessed that the advance publicity for STC’s production of Lord of the Flies filled this reviewer with foreboding. A perspective on William Golding’s allegory about the inherent savagery of humanity – a destructiveness that, in his words, ‘produces evil as a bee produces honey’ – which shrinks it to the malady of the moment, toxic masculinity, performed by a cast that mixes gender, race, and physical disability, made it sound like a frenzy of virtue signalling. But one thing that the first-night performance made clear was that there was no tokenism in the casting. The performances across the board were strong, even if a couple of the character readings were problematic. Since on stage, as opposed to film, it would be impossible to cast the play with boys of the correct age, why not stretch the net wide and trust in the audience’s imagination?
Although, or perhaps because, it was by far his most successful book, Golding professed to despise Lord of the Flies, calling it trite, boring, and crude. But the history of the twentieth and now the twenty-first centuries have proved its truth: the veneer of civilisation barely covers humanity’s basic brutality. That a group of nicely brought up, well-behaved boys, survivors of a plane crash on a pacific island, when left on their own could descend into a mindless homicidal horde is of little surprise to a world that has experienced, among many other horrors, Belsen, Sarajevo, and Kampuchea. Alarmingly, those powerful three syllable chants that fire up the boys – ‘Kill the Beast’, ‘Cut His Throat’, ‘Spill His Blood’ – have their modern echo: ‘Lock Her Up’, ‘Send Her Back’.