Perfectly-timed for school parties cramming before final GCSE examinations, Leeds Playhouse and Belgrade Theatre Coventry present William Golding’s, Lord of the Flies, showing in the Quarry Theatre where Leo Owen caught the show

Director Amy Leach (Macbeth, Oliver Twist, Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet) brings Golding’s classic tale into a more contemporary setting with evacuation soundbites framing flight turbulence. The opening plane crash is effectively represented through physical theatre and sound effects, followed by the young cast scattering as random belongings litter the stage from above. Lynch’s cast updates the story too with Sade Malone playing Ralph, Henry (Aki Nakagawa) also becoming a female character and Samneric fraternal twins. Ciaran O’Breen plays a deaf Eric while Eloise Pennycott is his sister, using sign language, gesticulation and speech to convey their relationship. Through casting, Lynch gives the characters a more universal appeal, in keeping with today’s multicultural society.

Max Johns’ crisp modern design misleadingly at first appears simplistic, merging the novel’s three primary locations into one with a white terraced centrepiece acting as the mountain, Castle Rock and the meeting platform. On closer inspection however, Johns very skilfully makes his island subtly sinister with black palm trees bordering the stage and a black conch, already planting the seed of the darkness within mankind that Golding’s tale unashamedly explores. Johns’ high contrast vision also acts to aid visually impaired audience members, in keeping with the Playhouse’s mission to create inclusive welcoming theatre for all.

Although the centrepiece never alters, Johns uses props to bring the mysteries of the island to life with a fire on stage, parachutist suspended from a tree, fragments of silver hyperthermia blankets and a convincing speared pig’s corpse. Red lighting and blood smears coupled with John Biddle’s tense sound design, increase the menace as the survivors battle their inner demons.

Although this adaptation remains in story very close to Golding’s novel with even character backstories faithful to the original, there are some alterations but they don’t detract and are clearly more the result of the confines of staging. Dialogue is used to make the action clear, rather than design and jazzy special effects. There are many direct quotations from the book and some new great lines added too; Piggy sagely saying, “It’s no use crying, it won’t get the dog washed” provides some light-relief while Roger mocking Ralph for holding the conch like a hot water bottle, cleverly references Golding’s interest in the fragility of civilisation.

Natasha Harrison’s (Movement Director) choreography is a little drawn-out and unrealistic during some of the more violent scenes but the use of slow-motion works well for especially brutal moments, effectively illuminating the mob-mentality. Harrison is perhaps slightly hampered too by Johns’ set with the final hunt diminished to little more than a circular chase, illustrative at least of the juvenile mindset of Golding’s characters. Adding new scenes to the start and end of the play makes its premise more tangible and the characters all the more nuanced too. Lucy Casson’s cast are all extraordinarily versatile for young relatively inexperienced actors but a special mention must go to Jason Battersby’s Roger, truly menacing. Malone too is exceptional, pulling on the heartstrings in the play’s final scene with an understated, yet emotional performance that will likely resonate.

Lord of the Flies’ geeks may feel the descent into savagery is too sped-up, littluns seriously lacking and the pivotal scene with Simon talking to the “Lord of the Flies” demeaned but there’s no doubt this production will likely garner a new generation of devoted Golding fans. A phenomenal accomplishment.

Lord of the Flies shows at The Leeds Playhouse until 8th April: