Matthew Bourne’s Lord of the Flies opens in Glasgow
Young men of Glasgow perform alongside professional dancers
It’s not easy being a young boy in the dance world – just ask Billy Elliot. Things may have moved on since that fictional character swapped his narrow-minded small town for the Royal Ballet School – but only a fraction. The stigma attached to male dancing is still alive and well in many places, which is one reason behind a unique collaboration between Glasgow Theatres and Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures company.
Awarded over a quarter of a million pounds by Creative Scotland, as part of the National Lottery’s Inspire Fund, the two organisations have spent the past year working with boys and young men in schools, community groups and colleges. From an initial pool of almost 300 boys in the West Dunbartonshire and Glasgow area, 150 went on to make a short film, Beastie, inspired by William Golding’s classic novel, Lord of the Flies. And now, 15 of them have been chosen to appear in an ambitious stage adaptation of the book, performing alongside professional dancers from Bourne’s company.
It’s an amazing opportunity for all concerned, and for many, an introduction to a whole new world. At 13, Bruce Summers of Dumbarton Academy is one of the youngest boys taking part. ‘I didn’t really think of it as a boy’s sort of thing, to be dancing,’ he says. ‘But when they came to my school and I heard about it, I didn’t think it was dance, I thought it was just steps, and that it would pretty good to go along to it.’
A year later, Summers is hooked, despite admitting to being ‘slagged’ by his friends at school. ‘I don’t care what they think, because I like it,’ he says. ‘It’s good because we’re working as a team and cooperating with each other. You get to make new friends, talk to new people and do things which are different from school.’
Watching the boys rehearse at Glasgow’s RSAMD, Summer’s point about them ‘working as a team’ becomes patently clear. While a group of older boys practise some tricky jumps, the younger ones bandy together to form a human tank, gliding across the floor ominously. It’s impressive stuff, and this is only the start. Until now, the boys have only been meeting once a week with Glasgow Theatres’ Dance Artist in Residence, Natalie McLeary and New Adventures’ Adam Galbraith (who will also play the key role of Jack). As opening night at the Theatre Royal approaches, the boys will step up to full-time rehearsals with Bourne himself.
For 14-year-old Matthew Docherty of St Roch’s Secondary, working with one of the dance world’s biggest names is quite a prospect. ‘I went to see his Swan Lake,’ says Docherty during a break from rehearsals, ‘and it was amazing, it really was. I’m really, really excited about working with him. When I told my drama teacher at school that I was doing a Matthew Bourne project, she said “Oh my God, you’re so lucky”, she absolutely loves him.’ Like Summers, Docherty has had to withstand some ribbing from his peers, but seems similarly unperturbed. ‘Some people say that’s brilliant, others have made fun of it,’ he says. ‘But it just washes over me. It felt amazing to be chosen, because this is the first dance thing I’ve done, so I never thought I’d make it – I was really surprised and happy that I did.’
Coming to the project with a little more experience is 21-year-old Albert McLure. Currently studying for an HNC in Dance at Anniesland College, he found out about the workshops from a lecturer. ‘Just for curiosity’s sake I went along,’ he recalls. ‘I’d heard of Matthew Bourne, but at that stage I didn’t realise it would lead to a performance – I just thought they were offering a series of workshops. It’s a complete honour to have been selected without having to go through the normal training and audition process that professionals have to. In a way, this was an audition, but they masked it quite well so it wasn’t as scary.’
Like the rest of the boys, McLure has some trepidation about performing on one of Scotland’s most important stages, coupled with a huge amount of excitement.
‘It’s quite a scary thought just now,’ he says. ‘But I think it’s one of those things that you’re just going to have to deal with on the night. I think the adrenalin will kick in and it will be a buzz.’
Unlike the novel, which is set on an island, the show takes place in a deserted theatre. As the noise of civil unrest rages outside, the boys appear to have been left there for their own protection. But with no adults around to supervise, they start to create their own rules, until life inside the theatre becomes as hostile as outside. Although the lead characters will be played by New Adventures dancers, all the local boys involved will be given genuine parts to play.
‘What I don’t want is for them to be scenery,’ says co-director/choreographer, Scott Ambler, ‘or to hang around the back while the professional dancers do their thing. So a lot of the choreography is based on the games and scenes they’ve been setting up over the past few months, because I want them to be part of the creative process.’
New Adventures has long been seen as the cool, accessible face of dance for those uninitiated in the art form. So for those boys brave enough to get involved and withstand the teasing, the payoff may well come when they’re up on stage, and those doing the ‘slagging’ are looking up at them.
‘I’m sure a lot of the guys might get a bit of stick from their mates,’ says Ambler. ‘But I suspect when their mates see them in the show, they’ll be a little bit jealous. Because the kind of work we do isn’t ballet, tights and prettiness, it’s going to look like a bunch of feral lads on stage, actually creating a war.’
Lord of the Flies, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Wed 2–Sat 5 Mar.