So you’ve read Animal Farm. Maybe you slogged through it at school or you’ve read it aloud to your children. So why see a theatrical production of the same story?
For director and writer Geordie Brookman, the adaptor and director of The State Theatre Company of South Australia’s production of George Orwell’s 1945 classic, a staged version of a novel “is an active provocation to the audiences’ imagination”.
It puts you inside the head of another reader, Brookman says, one whose idea of the mood, the characters and the world of the story may be radically different to your own.
Orwell’s allegorical story of an animal overthrow of a hated human regime is one of the best-known English language novels of the 20th century. It has already been adapted to the stage several times and turned into a classic animated film.
Brookman’s version presents Orwell’s bustling farmyard population of pigs, horses, dogs – and the occasional human – as a one-man show.
“In a strange way, when you do something like this as a solo performance, it reconnects us to our childhood,” Brookman says.
“Most of us were read aloud to as children. For me, that’s where my love of narrative and plot began, and where I found a meeting point between externally provided plot and space where my imagination could stretch. In a way, that’s the point we’re trying to create here.”
Performed by actor Dale March, this is an Animal Farm stripped to the basics.
“It’s all about the actor. It’s a very focused and often very still space,” Brookman says. “We didn’t want to set it in a barnyard or in some kind of post-Soviet industrial wasteland. We want to connect to the post-truth world we live in and that idea of ‘the black mirror’ – the mobile phone screen – where we lose track of what is true and what is not.”
And no one will be disadvantaged by not having read the book, says Brookman. A theatrical adaptation must stand on its own.
“There is a strange thing with Orwell’s writing, especially Animal Farm and 1984. People think they’ve read it and know it but actually haven’t. You might have intense memories of the animated version made in the 1950s. But that was actually funded by the American CIA as a piece of political propaganda. They changed the story!
“We think we know Animal Farm but we have missed the truth of it and part of what is driving me is to do with guiding audiences as gently as possible to the heart of what Orwell was really talking about.”