Playing far too short a season at The Q, Shake & Stir’s Animal Farm is a remarkable piece of theatre. Adapting George Orwell’s Animal Farm is something that would intimidate most playwrights, but the three cast members who pulled this amazing work together have handled the challenge with amazing dexterity, delivering a performance that is intensely theatrical, deeply engaging and absolutely essential.
For those who, like me, deftly avoided reading Animal Farm in high school, the basic premise is that the animals on an English farm stage an uprising, overthrow the farmer, and establish a system of governance to allow the farm to continue to produce food for the benefit of the animals, rather than their former master. In this new order, the leaders slowly increase in greed and the other animals find themselves no better off.
Originally written in the context of twentieth century fears over the rise of communism, the story resonates in a different key so soon after the oppression of fearful western governments in the wake of 9/11 and their subsequent incursions into the Middle East. The context of twenty-first century politics, however, doesn’t really enter into this production, which has presumably been produced primarily as an engagement tool for secondary students, given that this is Shake & Stir’s main audience. As far as productions for this audience go, however, this is a spectacular piece of theatre with a much wider appeal.
The story is delivered largely through direct narration, which is shared among the energetic cast. The events of the story, being so fantastical, are proficiently depicted through very physical performances that keep engagement high despite a dependence on narration for the advancement of plot.
The physicality of these performers is very effective in establishing a broad range of distinctly personified animal characters, especially since the cast of five all perform multiple characters. And what is ever more commendable in this production is how these five function so well as an ensemble. They are truly unified in a way that is rarely seen even in the most admired of casts.
Michael Fultcher's direction is well-balanced. The cast never miss a beat and deliver the ebb and flow of the crescendo brilliantly. Tim Dashwood and Bryan Roberts are magnificent performers, and Jason Glenwright's lighting design and Josh McIntosh's set perform admirably. A lot of credit, though, has to go to Ross Balbuziente, Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij, who are listed as the production's creators as well as cast members. Their creation is simply one of the most raw and essential pieces of theatre produced in this country in recent decades, and they should be commended for the manner in which they tackled this challenging story. Replicating the most essential elements of Ancient Greek drama, but absolutely without any pretence or afftectation, this production sits solidly on the modern Australian stage.
In short, Shake & Stir’s Animal Farm is deeply engaging, thoroughly entertaining, and worthy of many more performances than it will be getting in Queanbeyan. Don't miss your chance.
shake & stir theatre co
based on the novel by George Orwell
Director Michael Futcher
Venue: 'The Q' - Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, Canberra
Dates: 5 – 7 March, 2013
Tickets: $39.00 - $29.00
Bookings: 02 6285 6290