ON an island populated by disputatious factions, a power struggle is turning nasty.

“Kill it, kill it, spill its blood,” snarls Sam.

“I saw it,” says Eric in fearful wonderment. “I saw the beast.”

Just one exchange in a rehearsal for a landmark drama at Durham’s Gala Theatre where the talents of university students are to be tested on the professional stage.

The Gala has always wooed audiences with visiting productions but manager Robin Byers is keen for the panto not to be the only ‘in house’ show.

“In recent years we have really focused on producing our own shows, to give a strong identity to the theatre, and to celebrate the wealth of theatrical talent that exists in the North East” says Robin.

“Our aim is to produce work that is popular and accessible but has real heart, and important things to say about our lives and the human experience. We want people in County Durham to relate to the work, but also for it to be thought provoking, provide inspiration or simply escapism.

Recent offerings have included Educating Rita and Two, Jim Cartwright’s play set in a pub.

Now comes Lord of the Flies, William Golding’s bleakly compelling 1954 tale of schoolboy plane crash survivors. A parable showing how civilisation crumbles when despots seize control, director Annie Rigby sees echoes of it in today’s fractious political climate.

“The thing that has been so extraordinary is it’s a book about democracy falling apart. What happens when you start deciding the rules don’t count any more is really frightening.”

The fear infusing the novel and Nigel Williams’s script is seized upon with relish by Annie’s young cast. All ten members, male and female, are members of Durham University’s Durham Student Theatre (DST) whose shows are performed here often.

However, this is the first time Gala has teamed up with DST to co-produce a show. Judging by that rehearsal, they have risen to the challenge.

Lord of the Flies: Gala Theatre, Durham, September 30 to October 5. Tickets galadurham.co.uk or 03000-266600.