JAMES Weisz, former director of now-closed Brighton theatre 88 London Road, is at the helm of this classic story of human fallibility. He tells EDWIN GILSON about finding humour amid the bleakness and the perils of running a business.

YOU’RE not likely to forget the first time you read or watched Lord of the Flies.

The 1954 novel by William Golding, adapted for films in 1963 and 1990, is a devastating examination of the human condition. After a plane crashes, leaving a group of children abandoned on a small, uninhabited island, the worst of humanity rears its head. A hierarchy of power is brutally asserted and any semblance of civilisation crumbles, leading to tragic consequences.

James Weisz, director of a new version featuring local child actors, is searching for the right word to describe the plot.

“I remember watching it in year 8 and finding it very... daunting. The message is a bit bleak.” He can say that again. By setting the action in the modern day, though, Weisz hopes to bring fresh elements to the familiar dread. I’m trying to show how children in this day and age would cope on an island,” he says. “We’re wondering how it would feel to be unplugged and go back to basics. People can feel more connected to the story that way.”

The modernisation doesn’t stop there. Weisz and his young cast – whittled down from 90 auditionees – have also been pondering the exact reasons for the traumatic events of the play, referring to contemporary social issues as they do so.

“I got the children’s opinion on what might have caused the plane crash. Is it something to do with terrorism or the dispute between North Korea and America?” Despite the updated touches, Weisz promises the play remains faithful to the original book.

In Lord of the Flies, the children gang up on Piggy because of his weight, glasses and seemingly inferior intelligence. “The easiest thing to do at a scary time is pick on the weakest,” adds Weisz. A power hierarchy can be found in every school class and Weisz’s cast are familiar with some of the dynamics in Lord of the Flies – albeit not to the same devastating extent. Weisz says: “Children talk like that – ‘I have more friends, I should be in charge’. We’ve spoken a lot about bullying.” Is there a risk of traumatising young children by staging such a haunting story? “These are really intelligent young chaps who know the difference between reality and fiction."

What about Weisz himself? Does he see any redemption in Lord of the Flies? “It is bleak but there is also a huge amount of comedy. It’s not always a dirge of misery and ‘look how awful we humans are’.”

Weisz earned a reputation on the Brighton theatre scene through his work with 88 London Road. The theatre regularly staged shows before the landlord handed Weisz an eviction notice following the closure of the building’s cafe-bar. While Weisz says he misses the venue, he adds that it’s a “luxury” to devote his attention entirely to directing plays.

“The theatre did really well, we had thousands of people coming to our shows,” he says. “It was the cafe-bar that was harder to manage. Running a bar is not something I ever wanted to do anyway. Everything costs so much these days and running a small business in Brighton is hard.” His experience hasn’t deterred him, though – at some point, he wants to do it all over again. “I went into it quite naive five years ago but I’ve learned a lot of lessons.”

Lord of the Flies
Brighton Open Air Theatre, 
September 13 to 16. For more information and tickets visit brightonopenairtheatre.co.uk