The name Matthew Bourne tends to guarantee a big turnout at the Theatre Royal. Ever since the maverick choreographer – and genius, you might justifiably add – wowed audiences with his male swans in Swan Lake, people have flocked.
It’s a shot from Swan Lake that you see before the closing credits in Billy Elliot, the film – and there are shades of Billy Elliot in this latest venture, an adaptation of William Golding’s 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies.
Sixteen North East boys and young men came through an audition process to dance on stage with some of the professionals from Bourne’s New Adventures dance company in an initiative called Re:Bourne.
After an initial try-out in Scotland in 2011, other English cities have been getting the attention with Newcastle the latest. The Theatre Royal and Dance City came together with Re:Bourne to find the young dancers – complete rookies, many of them – and get the show on stage.
Has it been a success? Well, judging by the opening performance here, most definitely. Full marks to everyone involved in this hugely challenging undertaking for delivering a production with a powerful punch.
Golding’s tale about a gang of boys alone on an uninhabited island, where a shaky fretwork of informal rules soon gives way to anarchy and bloody in-fighting, is perfect for a young all-male troupe assembled at short notice.
It is a dystopian tale. Of the most basic emotions it exposes, love and affection are barely hinted at. To the fore is an animalistic desire for supremacy, with the weakest – like poor Piggy – fair game.
As we take our seats, it sounds as if a riot is going on back stage where all is in darkness and a pall of smoke/steam hangs ominously.
Golding’s island is represented not by sand and foliage but by metal gantries and oil drums. This is an industrialised version of a place which has no idyllic connotations.
The professional dancers and the new recruits march out of the haze in school uniforms and perform a highly disciplined, almost militaristic routine. Only their respective height provides a clue as to which group of dancers is which.
This seamless quality was the aim and it is achieved. Even when the uniforms are discarded, the ‘war paint’ is applied and the stage becomes a battleground of hurled and discarded weapons and food, the company moves as one.
Terry Davies’ music allows for changes of mood but there are few soft moments. Aggression, fear and adrenalin-fuelled rivalry are to the fore – until smiles break out as the lads take their well deserved bow.
The latter day Billy Elliots are Andrew Ashton, Sam Carruthers, Ruben Copley, Andrew Davison, Nathan Denton, Joe Derbyshire, John Hansford, Jack Hindmarch, Carl Hughes, Robin Larkin, Marcel Li Ping, Amonik Melaco, Finlay Murray, Ciaran Oakley, Louis Swanepoel and Joseph Wright.
Who knows where this new adventure in dance – an art form that appears to hold no fears for lots of boys in 2014 – might take them?
Lord of the Flies is at the Theatre Royal until Saturday. A cursory glance at the novel’s synopsis might not go amiss if you’re planning to go, but it’s the rousing vigour of the enterprise that you’ll take away with you.