By Paul Kiely
Photos © Bob Seary.
By George Orwell
Adapted by Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Directed by Saro Lusty-Cavallari
A New Theatre Production
542 King Street
Season: 13 October – 7 November 2020. Bookings: www.newtheatre.org.au Duration: 100 minutes plus interval.
If you knew nothing of the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalin, you could be forgiven for feeling that Animal Farm is just a quaint, little agricultural yarn with some adult themes. And on the surface, it is.
Dig deeper though, and you will appreciate why George Orwell’s fable has been a literary favourite for over 70 years.
The New Theatre production of Animal Farm is an impressive adaptation by Australian playwright Saro Lusty-Cavallari for the stage. The story largely follows Orwell’s plot, however with sparse conversation in the original, Lusty-Cavallaro has shown his writing skills by penning some absorbing dialogue between the farmyard critters.
The story is set on ‘Manor Farm’, a fledgling enterprise owned by the inept and alcoholic owner Mr Jones (Brendan Miles). Not intentionally cruel, he has grown lazy and sometimes forgets to feed the farm animals. Before he dies, an old and wise boar called Old Major (also Brendan Miles) encourages the animals to rise and overthrow the humans.
Under the guidance of two pigs named Napoleon (Angus Evans) and Snowball (Lachlan Stevenson), a revolution occurs, and Mr Jones is exiled.
With the promise of unlimited bounty and a life of leisure, the farm animals mindlessly follow the lead of Snowball and raid the feed stores. Napoleon and Snowball enact the ‘7 Commandments of Animalism’.
These are noble statements of intention but are destined to whither as the reality of inequality in the farm animal family takes hold.
Proudly painted on the newly titled barn called ‘Animal Farm’, the commandments are for all to see:
“1. Whatever goes on two legs is an enemy.
2. Whatever goes on four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
3. No animal shall wear clothes.
4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
7. All animals are equal.”
This is when knowledge of the Russian Revolution now comes in handy. The parallels with this early 20th century event is intentional. Soon the farmyard resembles a battlefield, typical of the lies, deceit and betrayal that totalitarianism ultimately delivers.
This is a compelling production. With a huge cast of 15 and equal number in the creative and production team, it is ‘all hands-on deck’ as the New Theatre tackles Covid head on.
Saro Lusty-Cavallaro directs his adaptation faultlessly. Presented as a series of short acts with a title illuminated onto the stage curtain, the simple staging (Carmody Nicol) and minimalist lighting effects (Rhys Mendham) keep the focus on the farmyard characters.
Costumes (Claudia Mirabello) are clever, using fawn overalls or shirts with round insignias to depict the different barefoot animals. As Napoleon takes ultimate control, he emerges in a military style jacket with medals, always accompanied by his two loyal hounds.
Animal Farm is not a light-hearted or comedic look at how non-human life exists. As we are reminded early on “The life of an animal is misery and slavery”. However, the drama and dark themes succeed in reminding us humans of how fortunate we are to live in an accountable democracy.
That is something the animal world will never enjoy.