Barrington Stage Co. plans to undertake daunting “Lord of the Flies”

In a bold and gutsy move, Barrington Stage Company announced today that it plans to undertake a major production of the classic book, Lord of the Flies in 2011. It is perhaps as daring a challenge as that of trying to put The Great Gatsby or Spring Awakening on stage. Classic stories don’t always lend themselves to easy transitions from the page to the stage, or to the screen for that matter. There have been two films of Lord of the Flies, neither of which remained true to the book.

Yet in making the announcement, it means that Barrington Stage Company’s fall production will also be the New England premiere of one of the 20th century’s greatest novels. William Golding’s famous Lord of the Flies, has been adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams, and will be directed by Barrington Stage Associate Artist Christopher Innvar (The Whipping Man and The Collyer Brothers). Lord of the Flies will be presented on the Mainstage from October 5 through 23, 2011. BSC will host four student matinees (not open to public) at 10:00am on Fridays October 7, 14 and 21, as well as Tuesday, October 18.

The announcement was made by Artistic Director Julianne Boyd and Managing Director Tristan Wilson, part of several updates to the 2011 season planned for its Mainstage and Stage 2 venues. In other news, it was announced that the opening Main Stage production of Guys and Dolls has been extended an extra week, due to unprecedented demand for tickets. Not only is the Frank Loesser musical an audience favorite, but Boyd has commissioned John Rando to direct, a real coup. He won a Tony for his direction of Urinetown. Rando has a real talent for both comedy and irony.

Guys and Dolls will begin performances on Wednesday, June 15, with the press opening now Sunday, June 19 at 5:00pm. The closing date remains the same, July 16. Following Guys and Dolls on the Mainstage will be the world premiere of Mark St. Germain’s The Best of Enemies July 21 through August 6, and the musical The Game August 11 through 28.

On Stage 2 Lee Blessing’s Going to St. Ives, directed by Tyler Marchant (BSC’s A Picasso and Freud’s Last Session), will now have performances of Going to St. Ives begin Wednesday, June 22, with a press opening on June 26 at 7:30pm, and a new closing date of July 10. BSC ‘s Stage 2 Season will kick off with the Off-Broadway hit Zero Hour starring Drama Desk Award-winner Jim Brochu from May18 through June 5.

Piecing together Lord of the Flies

A plane crashes on a Desert Island – the only survivors a group of schoolboys. By day they enjoy a land of white sands, blue seas and fantastic birds – by night their dreams are haunted by a terrifying beast. As the boys delicate sense of order fades, so their childish fears are transformed into something more primitive, and their behavior starts to take on a murderous, savage significance.

The Lord of the Flies may be a challenge to its young cast, but it is also great fun.

The coming-of-age adventure story begins with a group of English school boys stranded on an island and ends with them as savages, playing life and death games. Lord of the Flies has been named one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century by Time Magazine and ranked #25 out of 100 on the Modern Library 100 Best Novels list.

BSC’s Julianne Boyd notes that putting this on stage “will be challenging but it will be so great for the school kids (most young people read it in 9th grade in Berkshire County) to see it live.”

Part of the complexity is that, as with any great novel, the action though set on an island does not stay in one spot, it takes place in many locations. And the dialogue is as often in the minds of the boys who are isolated there, as spoken out loud to each other. The adaptation by Nigel Williams was first professionally performed in the UK in 1995. The plot is simple enough, though portraying the boys and their actions is complicated. For one thing, the age of the boys in the novel are as young as six, and it is highly unlikely that there are any children ready for the discipline of the stage at that age.

Teenage actors are more likely, and with some luck and a large enough audition pool, some excellent choices could well show up. Some recent productions have used older actors, in their twenties, for their more mature abilities, but they neither rang true nor delivered the expected extra punch. Director Christopher Innvar has some mighty high hurdles to overcome in getting the right cast.

So how is BSC going to approach it? Shortly after posting this story, Julianne Boyd wrote to say that she thinks it will be a mix of “young actors in their 20s (all who look very young) with some local teenagers.” The teens will play the younger roles.  But this is not as easy to accomplish as it sounds. Boyd explains why casting all young actors is almost impossible these days. “We would have to offer tutors to the kids if they’re in high school and we take them out of school all day- it would be a very large expense.  Even with the one young girl in The Crucible, we had to plan after school rehearsals – difficult if the roles are bigger. But the good news is we will hire some local teens whose schedules we can work around.”

During the course of the play the characters go from normal kids to a more primitive, and dangerous state. This is shown as the boys evolve from authentic prep school outfits to disheveled and worn clothing, supplemented by war paint for the hunters.

While the island at first seems an idyllic paradise with no adults and no rules, the boys gradually face the “beast” that may lurk on the island and in their souls.  A breakdown of civilization leads to conflict that makes both a fascinating parable and compelling theatre. Towards the end, they have indeed gone back to nature, and become primitive.

Just how Boyd and Innvar combine all these elements remains to be seen in the BSC production, and I for one can hardly wait. Knowing how complicated this production will be to pull off not only increases curiosity, but, one hopes, ticket sales as well.

Ticket information

Single tickets go on sale to the public on Tuesday, February 15.

Currently available are Mainstage FlexPasses priced at $105-$138. Stage 2 Passes are available for $81-$124. A Musical Theatre Lovers Pass to all four musicals on the Mainstage and Stage 2 is available for $160. Handling fees on all subscriptions will be waived through Monday, February 14. Special rates, benefits and packages are available for groups of 15 or more on the Mainstage and groups of 10 or more on Stage 2. For more information contact Kate Ivey, Box Office & Group Services Manager, at 413-236-8888 or visit barringtonstageco.org/tickets/groups.php.

For more information, log on to www.barringtonstageco.org.

One thought on “Barrington Stage Co. plans to undertake daunting “Lord of the Flies”

  1. Spring Awakening, Frühlings Erwachen, is originally a play by Frank Wedekind. Ed. Note: Quite right, that was a poor example I used. Last year I saw the Zeitgeist Theatre production of the play (in a new translation) in Boston. It was long, and a bit leaden. I was thinking about the adaptation that made a musical out of it which was quite unique and much more contemporary.

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