March 25, 2019

More equal than others

Animal Farm
by George Orwell.
Adaptation by Geordie Brookman.
State Theatre Company South Australia.
Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre.
March 22. Tickets: $32- $61. Bookings 131 246 or online
Duration 1 hour 25 minutes (no interval)
Until March 30.

When Animal Farm, George Orwell’s celebrated novella, was first published in 1945 it was blithely sub-titled : “A Fairy Story”. But it was anything but an ethereal fiction. A year later, the author, himself a committed democratic socialist, wrote : “Of course I intended it primarily as a satire on the Russian Revolution …and that kind of revolution (violent conspiratorial revolution, led by unconsciously power hungry people) can only lead to a change of masters.”

Like his equally prescient novel 1984, over the 70 years since its first appearance, Animal Farm remains George Orwell’s timely warning to the rapidly unravelling 21st century. His allegory of a group of animals expelling Jones the Farmer and turning Manor Farm first into a workers’ collective, and then a bureaucratic tyranny, is forensically described. It is a story, simply and vividly told, of high ideals and low intentions; of the persistent beastliness of human beings.

Starting the 2019 State Theatre season – and memorably closing his 7 year stint as artistic director – Geordie Brookman has both adapted and directed this galvanising, hyper-animated stage version of Orwell’s tale of thuggery, piggery and political deceit.

The novella, with its measured cadence and lucid narrative, is ripe for adaptation to other media – as it has frequently been for radio, film and the stage. Brookman’s version for solo performer Renato Musolino keeps close to the original in its sequencing and prominent storylines.

Some characters have been deleted – Mollie, the flibberty mare and Moses the raven, satirising the false comforts of religion – but that leaves more room for the bastardry of the leadership pigs, Napoleon, Snowball and the brilliantly named Squealer, as well as the stoic courage of Boxer the draughthorse, betrayed for his loyalty and virtue.

Bianka Kennedy’s minimal set features a V-shaped raised stage which, along with the back of the set, is lined with lines of neon tubing which erupt and punctuate the action with striking effect. Alexander Ramsay’s lighting uses chiaschuro shadowing and for the Beckettian prologue only Musolino‘s face is visible.

Andrew Howard’s excellent sound design is ominously subliminal, disarmingly lyrical, and, for the battles and storms, the light and sound explosions are bang on.

Morphing his way through 20 characters from pig to man, and man to sheep and goat and horse, Renato Musolino’s performance is splendid. He squeals, whinnies, groans and snorts his way through the story, capturing the swinish hypocrisy of the pigs, with their conveniently modified Commandments, and the gormless obedience of the earnest believers. The story never loses pace or purpose and the force of Orwell’s contempt for fake politics is inescapable.

“More equal than others”, The Australian, March 25, 2019, p.16.

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