Pilot Theatre Company's actors can scratch themselves during a rehearsal break but not when they are on stage. They are playing boys, and boys, insists Marcus Romer, just do not scratch themselves.
Romer is directing the first UK touring production of William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies, the story of a group of schoolboys who crash-land on a deserted island and descend into savagery. He is using Nigel Williams's acclaimed adaptation and is determined that his cast, all of them young men, should take on a child-like perspective and not be child impersonators.
Pilot Theatre's staging is wonderfully realistic, which is crucial to a narrative rich in symbolism. The wrecked plane looks as if it once flew, the palm trees are enticing, rain drenches the boys as real rain should and there is real fire on the stage. The island is given a personality: beautiful but then dark and terrifying. It fuels the boys' fears.
When the boys' plane crashes, it tears a scar across the island, symbolising their violent entry into paradise. The scar becomes their playground. They play on the wreckage, climbing and jumping, then strip things away and use them - showing their journey from boys to men.
The company's style is forceful, and there is a contin-uous, pulsating soundtrack. Only death brings a moment of silence. "Music gives us a filmic language for younger people," says Romer. "It helps support the story, but if audiences notice it, it's not doing its job."
In rehearsal the boys turn on the character Simon. He tries to tell them that the dead airman who has fallen from the sky is just a man, not the fearful beast they believe him to be. The boys play with Simon, they bait him and then the red mist of violence comes down. It is a chilling moment and very, very scary.
Usually actors can turn off a mood in the time it takes to change television channels, but these actors needed a good five minutes to calm down.
"There is a fantastic sense of uncheap optimism in this story," says Romer. "For instance, Ralph clinging to fading memories of decency and fairness. It's one of the things that makes Lord of the Flies such an affecting story. "
He strikes parallels with children's experiences in the classroom and the playground, where "islands" are created every day and bullying and violence happen. "It's real for them," Romer says.
At the Theatre Royal, York, from September 22 until October 10 , then the company tours until mid-February next year. Pilot Theatre Company: 01977 604852; Web site: http:home pages.poptel.org.uk pilot.theatre