Interview: Amy Leach Talks “Lord of the Flies” at Leeds Playhouse

This island belongs to all of us.

Some stories linger forever in our memories. Perhaps it’s because we read them as a child, or studied them at school, or saw something in one of the characters that so strongly reflected our own morals, dreams and aspirations that they remained with us forever as fictional shadows.

For many of us, when it comes to Lord of the Flies, all three are true – it was our first ‘almost adult’ book, a favourite on the school curriculum, and we saw something in Ralph, Jack, Piggy, Simon or Roger that continues to resonate through childhood, our teenage years and into adulthood.

William Golding’s original novel was published almost 70 years ago in the long shadow of the Second World War, but its themes, characters and unflinching exploration of human nature remain deeply rooted in contemporary life – making us reflect on who we are and the choices we make today.

We often think about Lord of the Flies as a reaction to the Second World War, but when I came back to the story as an adult, I realised it’s actually set against a background of nuclear war – a war of the future,” says Director Amy Leach, whose exciting new version of the story will be staged at Leeds Playhouse from 18 March to 8 April. “It felt important to embrace that by setting it now, to find a new and interesting way to restage a classic story and make it connect with audiences in 2023.

The story has much to say about the world we live in now – a world where children are still fleeing war zones, families are being separated, and power is an unequal commodity.

What really interested me in retelling Lord of the Flies was the opportunity it provided to look at the world we are creating for our young people, the lessons we are teaching them, and how their experiences are shaping them. In our production, the children are being evacuated from a war zone. The world is in chaos, and they’re left to fend for themselves on this island. I’m interested in how the world they have come from impacts on how they behave on the island – how the hierarchy develops, how they re-enact the things they’ve learned from adults.”

The world we live in is brutal and dark and, I hope, also full of joy, but we can’t hide away from the things we see on the news every day. I’m a parent of an 11-year-old who’s just started high school and I’m really conscious of the world he’s witnessing and how I can help him make good decisions in a similar way that Ralph is asked to do at the centre of Lord of the Flies.

In the original novel and older film and stage versions of the story, the young castaways were usually a group of privileged white boys. In her retelling, however, Amy has chosen to reflect the world we live in now – and the audiences who will fill the auditoriums in Leeds and on tour.

“We’ve really considered the diversity of our cast, thinking about all those young people – many of whom will be studying the book at school – who will be coming to see the play and will relish seeing themselves reflected in the world of the story. It’s forced us to look again at the story; to question it through a contemporary lens. This isn’t just something that’s happened in the past; it’s something that’s still happening now and will continue to happen. We can choose how we live our lives, and Lord of the Flies clearly shows us the consequences of those choices.

But creating the story for the stage is not just about people, it’s about the landscape itself – the eerie island that changes and shifts throughout the play to reflect the mood of its inhabitants.

Staging a play is a very different medium to writing a novel,” said Amy. “A novel comes alive in our minds, while a play is a living, breathing, 3D experience with real humans connecting with a real audience. Inevitably, we’ve had to make some changes to the geography of the island. We can’t push giant boulders off great heights in the theatre so there are some practical choices that have had to be made. But there is a sense of abstract fear in the book that we can retain and enhance on stage, building this sense of the beast – the Lord of the Flies – as a conceptual as well as a very real threat.

Amy has gathered a strong creative team and an incredible cast – some of whom only recently graduated – to tell this timeless story. She can’t wait for audiences to experience their energy and dynamism at close proximity.

There is something so brilliant about the entire team both on and off stage that makes this production feel very special indeed. Each and every one of the cast is exceptional. The way they inhabit their characters, their physicality, the way they work together in the world we are creating – I can’t wait to see them on stage and feel their connection to the audience. They are all owning the space and telling the story; reclaiming it for themselves, for now.

“Lord of the Flies” is at Leeds Playhouse from March 18th until April 8th 2023 – you can find more information and tickets here.

Lord of the Flies is a Leeds Playhouse and Belgrade Coventry co-production presented in association with Rose Theatre.

Interview courtesy of Jo Haywood.

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