As long as cats grow fat on bonus schemes, and politicians press their snouts into the trough, and leaders trade on fear, George Orwell’s Animal Farm will never go out of date.
In adaptor-director Saro Lusty-Cavallari’s staging, the rebellious pigs, sheep, cats, dogs, horses, hens and humans of Manor Farm are played by an ensemble of 15 actors without recourse to masks, beaks, tails and hooves.
The barn is sketched in cross-section in Carmody Nicol’s set design, also serving as a blackboard for the writing of the seven commandments of Animalism (“No animal shall wear clothes”, “All animals are equal”, etc) that will be amended in time as the porky elite press for more and more privilege.
Lusty-Cavallari’s compact, quick-moving script (punctuated by animated title cards) is contemporary in tone, helping to leads us away from Animal Farm as a fable on the unfolding of the Soviet revolution and towards it being a satire on modern day politics Australian-style – addicted to glib messaging (Manor Farm is “Open for Business”) and characterised by backroom bullying and policy backslides.
The ingrained sexism of politics is made apparent, too. In this world, as in ours, it’s the women (Laura Djanegara’s tireless Boxer; Imogen French’s bereft cow Clover) who do the heavy legwork and emotional labour while the men bluster, complain and then take the credit.
The acting performances enjoyable and it’s clear that everyone has thought hard about what they’re being asked to do and/or represent. Increased confidence as the show beds in will help the drama jump the lip of the stage more regularly. On this night, Brendan Miles, who opens the show with Old Major’s deathbed speech (he also plays the drunkard farmer Jones), Angus Evans (Napoleon) and Zoe Crawford (Squealer, played as an unctuous political spinner) stood out.
For young audiences contemplating the study of this HSC perennial, New Theatre’s Animal Farm will be an asset, a gift box of talking points in class. For the rest of us, it’s a solidly entertaining evening replete with a sense of serious purpose, flashes of humour and generous satirical bite.