Director and choreographer Matthew Bourne has a reputation for delivering exciting and innovative dance productions, and Lord of the Flies, which opened at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness on Wednesday was certainly no exception. Based on William Golding’s novel of the same name, Lord of the Flies explores the descent into chaos that Golding argues inevitably occurs when young boys (or anyone, for that matter) are left to their own devices without societal pressures to keep them in check. With brilliant acting, dancing, atmosphere and virtuosic storytelling, Bourne and his company, New Adventures, have put a fresh twist on Golding’s novel, utterly and sublimely surpassing all of my expectations, and the results are magnificent.

Lord of the Flies © Helen Maybanks
Lord of the Flies
© Helen Maybanks

My initial qualms on learning that the company would be using local children in its production had been extinguished by the end of the opening number, an angelic formation against a backdrop of chorister music. The rambunctious, anarchic enthusiasm of all of the actors was endearing and terrifying in equal measure. These kids were so committed to their roles, their acting so natural and their dancing so polished that the audience felt little need to draw any major distinction between the main cast of dancers from New Adventures and the amateur ensemble of young men and boys.

That is not to say that the children danced to the same technical level as the main cast. Leyton Williams as Simon was strong and flexible in his physically demanding lyrical routines. The calm, if sometimes eerie, serenity whenever Simon danced provided a stark contrast to Danny Reuben’s ferociously animalistic numbers in the role of firebrand Jack, who seizes control as ringleader with devastating consequences. It was disconcerting to see how rapidly the boys morphed from carefree lads playing with carts and aeroplanes into monstrous hoodlums with grunts and fist pumps and spears.

Lord of the Flies © Helen Maybanks
Lord of the Flies
© Helen Maybanks

The not-so-identical twins, Sam and Eric were very funny after being put on camp watch duty. Eric, the braver of the two, was clearly unimpressed by his brother’s attempts to huddle together for protection, and the revelation that both twins had fallen asleep on the job, thus forfeiting the boys’ chances of escape, prompted sympathetic laughter from the audience. Their later duet symbolising their transformation into ‘Samneric’ (as the novel calls them) was very effective: throughout, their bodies were either physically touching or moving in unison as if dancing as one person.

Bourne’s production remains faithful to the source material, despite the action taking place in an abandoned theatre rather than on a remote, tropical island. The team has worked hard to transfer the notable images from the novel into equivalent substitutes more relevant to the ballet’s setting. The conch in the original story has become a Shell oil drum and Jack’s hunters bring gifts of theatre snacks instead of animal meat. The injured pilot in the novel is replaced by a homeless man and it is a falling spotlight that kills Piggy rather than the boulder from the book.

Even the fire, which in the novel is started by focusing the sun’s light through Piggy’s spectacles, is created here using Piggy’s cigarette lighter. This, of course, makes Jack’s theft of the glasses in the second act even more cruel a move than it was originally. In this version Jack had absolutely no reason to take Piggy’s spectacles, except to once again emphasise his utter depravity.

Lord of the Flies © Helen Maybanks
Lord of the Flies
© Helen Maybanks

Piggy’s blind, stumbling dance that follows the theft is both distressing and comical. His tentative movements as he feels his way around the stage culminate in his finally freeing his friend Ralph from a basket and they share a poignant hug before leaving to confront Jack and the other children one final time.

Chaos ensues at the ballet’s climax with an athletic running and dancing chase scene, which is accompanied by increasingly loud music that becomes very uncomfortable to listen to. Jack and the other boys have reached full savage mode as they hurtle costumes and spears at the fleeing Ralph, the only non-savage left alive. The music and action builds throughout the scene until, just as it becomes unbearably overstimulating, everything stops and the stage is silent and motionless.

Without giving away the ending, the audience is confronted with the unsavoury parallels between the boys’ descent into bestial malice and the adult world’s attitudes to modern warfare. It’s a chilling final scene and the perfect end to an exhilarating and enjoyable evening.