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Lord of the Flies by William Golding will be staged later this month, under the expert direction of Samantha Scott-Blackhall

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Jane Seymour plays glamorous socialite Florence Lancaster in Noel Coward's play The Vortex staged by British Theatre Playhouse

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Romeo & Juliet will be staged for Shakespeare In The Park by Singapore Repertory Theatre

British stage invasion

The Union Jack is flying high this March and April. Three classics of British drama are taking to the stage here - namely, William Golding's Lord of the Flies, Noel Coward's The Vortex and William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. BT Lifestyle finds out why these literary works have endured through the ages.
Mar 11, 2016 5:50 AM

A journey into the heart of darkness

LORD OF THE FLIES
March 25 to April 3

IT'S unnerving to realise that teenagers all over the world are reading William Golding's Lord of the Flies, a popular 'O' Level text and young adult novel. The term "Lord of the Flies" is a literal translation of Beelzebub, the name for the Devil found in Christian and Jewish scriptures.

Golding's novel, which was later adapted into a play, tells the story of a group of English boys who are marooned on an island without any adults. Slowly they become untethered from rules and conventions, and turn on each other like savages.

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The 1954 novel was written after World War II in which unimaginable horrors were carried out by soldiers of all nations. Golding served as a naval officer in the British army and drew on his experiences at the battle in Walcheren in 1944.

Singapore theatre director Samantha Scott-Blackhall loved the novel when she first read it, and staged it in 2007 to strong reviews. The show's run, however, was cut short when her lead actor broke his toe. She now returns to the director's chair with a new cast and revised script.

She says: "Lord of the Flies reminds the world of the dark side of humanity, that people are capable of evil as well as good. As we witness the continuing atrocities and violence around the world, the story is still timely."

Scott-Blackhall and set designer Wong Chee Wai will turn SOTA Studio Theatre into a hot and wild jungle where the boys will play out their barbaric games. The cast of 12 includes seasoned actors such as Mark Richmond, Lim Kay Siu and Gavin Yap.

Scott-Blackhall says: "It's an intimate space, which means that each audience member is very close to the actors on stage. I want to raise the tension of the play and challenge the actors who will be performing within metres of the audience. It's going to be intense."

She has been hard on her actors as she tries to get them into their roles. She's had them play hide-and-seek at the Bidadari forest and soccer with actual teenage boys to help them recall their boyhood days. Rehearsals include a lot of rough-and-tumble exercises.

Actor Ghafir Akbar who plays Ralph, one of the gang leaders, says: "The actors are all adult men. So the challenge for us is to remember what it was like to look at life with a simple lens. It's not about dumbing down and becoming childish. It's about understanding how boys really think at that age and how they have to grow up very quickly in the jungle in order to survive."

"In a relatively short time, these boys evolve and devolve, their souls are tested and destroyed... The play is extraordinary because even though it's about boys on an island, it's a microcosm of adult society."

By Helmi Yusof
helmi@sph.com.sg

  • Lord of the Flies will be staged at 1 Zubir Said Drive, School Of The Arts, Sota Studio Theatre, on March 25 and March 26, 2.30pm and 7.30pm; April 1, 7.30pm, April 2 and April 3, 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Tickets at S$68 from lordoftheflies.peatix.com

A play very much ahead of its time

THE VORTEX
April 27 to May 15

NOT many people realise Noel Coward was a loyal guest of the Raffles Hotel from 1931 to 1968.

The acclaimed British playwright even completed one of his works, Private Lives, during his maiden stay and mentioned sipping a Gin Sling on the veranda in his autobiography.

It is only fitting that the Singapore-based British Theatre Playhouse will be staging one of his landmark plays, The Vortex, at the Raffles' Jubilee Hall next month.

Acclaimed West End director and Tony Award nominee Bob Tomson (Blood Brothers, Evita) will direct an ensemble cast led by ex-Bond Girl Jane Seymour, multi-award winning British actor James Cartwright, and veteran TV star Arthur Bostrom ('Allo 'Allo).

The production marks Seymour's long-awaited return to the stage after last starring in a Broadway production of Amadeus opposite Ian McKellen in the 80s.

"I actually used to do a lot of theatre when I was younger but it became harder once I had children," says the Emmy and two-time Golden Globe-winning actress over the phone from her Malibu home earlier this week.

The 65-year-old shot to fame with Live and Let Die (1973) and is best remembered for her roles in Somewhere in Time (1980) and television's Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman (1993-1998).

The mother of six and grandmother of five adds she is looking forward to "feeling the energy of the audience" when she makes her Asian theatrical debut here next month: "When you do film, there are different takes and edits but a live performance is one of a kind - it's happening in the moment."

The Vortex rocked London when it was first performed in 1924 with its scandalous expose of promiscuity amongst members of the city's high society. It was a huge box office hit and made a star and actor out of Coward, whom Seymour knew personally.

"He was the godfather of my first husband (Michael Attenborough, son of actor and director Richard Attenborough) and an extraordinary talent; even though he was in his old age by then, his wit was always there," reveals Seymour, who has been married four times and just got divorced last year.

The Vortex's plot revolves around glamorous socialite Florence Lancaster, whose younger lover turns out to be the ex-fiance of the woman her son is about to marry.

Seymour, who plays the role of Florence ("She's an early day cougar, you might say!"), adds the play is still very relevant despite it being written almost a century ago.

"It's very much ahead of its time ... The way people deal with aging, women not wanting to grow old, and the flattery of being involved with a younger man - I think that still happens a lot," she notes, "I can understand Florence's dilemma in some ways and hopefully I'm not like that."

Unlike her peers, she prefers to age naturally and avoids treatments like plastic surgery, botox and fillers just to look younger.

"As an actress, I like to feel like a blank canvas and when I play an older woman, I want to feel my (face) muscles move," she explains.

By Dylan Tan
dylantan@sph.com.sg

  • The Vortex runs at Jubilee Theatre at Raffles Hotel from April 27 to May 15. Tickets at S$115 to S$155 available from Sistic.

Star-cross'd lovers in a dystopian world

ROMEO & JULIET
April 27 to May 22

IT'S that time of the year again when Fort Canning Park turns into Stratford-upon-Avon, and the words of the world's hottest dead writer William Shakespeare are resurrected on an open-air stage for an audience of thousands. To paraphrase the Bard himself, "age cannot wither nor custom stale his great variety".

This year, Shakespeare In The Park by Singapore Repertory Theatre is taking on the Bard's classic romance, Romeo & Juliet. And it has a starry cast that includes Remesh Panicker, Daniel Jenkins, Jo Kukathas, Brendon Fernandez and Benjamin Chow.

The titular couple will be played by Thomas Pang and Cheryl Tan, two of the fastest rising young actors in the theatre scene. Pang has been getting rave reviews in plays such as Tribes and Versus, while Tan snagged the lead role of Ivy Chan in last year's restaging of Beauty World.

Seasoned director Daniel Slater, best known for staging grand operas in Europe and America, will orchestrate the story of two "star-cross'd" teenagers who fall in love and secretly marry - a union that sparks violence between their long-feuding families. Events take a tragic turn when the lovers kill themselves after mistakenly thinking the other had died.

Slater describes the modern staging of the play as a "kind of dystopia, with a labyrinthine series of Escher-like staircases, set against a glass and steel structure, blending with the cityscape of Singapore behind the stage".

Slater is used to working on a large scale, having directed a wide range of operas from Verdi's La traviata to Wagner's Lohengrin. The latter was staged for San Francisco Opera with an audience twice the size of Fort Canning Park's.

He picked Pang and Tan to play the legendary lovers after a long and rigorous audition process: "I liked the way they handled the verse, how they made perfect sense of the language, celebrated the poetry without any indulgence. When they performed the so-called 'balcony scene', it was clear they would be an excellent match."

For Pang, Shakespeare was what got him into acting: "I memorised a monologue from Julius Caesar and my first acting teachers were my father, who loves poetry, and a man named Phil McDermott who was someone's dad at school and on EastEnders (a BBC TV show). I was about seven, and this instilled in me a tremendous respect for language. It completely rewired how my brain worked."

Tan is more irreverent. She says: "I've always thought it was funny that people believe this is a romance to aspire to ... People think, 'I want to experience their love.' But really, you generally don't hope to be in a double suicide within a week of meeting someone at a party. Right?"

Right. But she admires the Bard's language and his ability to tell timeless tales: "If we can still understand Romeo's and Juliet's struggles, then human societies haven't changed all that much ... We want things, we face obstacles, we fight them, we succeed or fail. That's pretty much life, right?"

Right. The more philosophical Pang agrees, adding: "The play needs to be seen because crusty old fathers and hot-blooded young men still concern themselves with who should love who. In death, in love, and in alcohol, we are equal. And if we cannot love freely in peacetime, then when?"

By Helmi Yusof

  • Romeo & Juliet runs from April 27 to May 22 at 7.30pm at Fort Canning Park. Tickets from S$36 available from Sistic.
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