3 Min Read

Timely Renewal of Well-Known Classic: Animal Farm

Animal Farm, a novel by George Orwell, which has haunted every English ATAR student across the country.

With all due respect to Animal Farm, and every other book on the English curriculum, it does often get considered as ‘just another boring book’ we were forced to read in High School. But, perhaps if students were given this version of Animal Farm, they’d find it more enjoyable?

Presented by Black Swan Theatre Company, Van Badham’s adaptation of Animal Farm hits every note you’d expect it to, with heavy Trumpian references throughout. (Does Donald deserve a co-writer credit?) Narration comes in the form of a fox news parody, ‘broadcast’ on a giant, cinema sized screen. These news breaks, which are filled with frantic cuts of footage and booming sensationalist voice overs, effectively move us through the rapidly evolving storyline. 

The onstage action also keeps at snappy pace, with relatively short scenes which offer just enough for the audience to consider before swiftly moving on. The comedy of the entire piece cannot go unmentioned, with plenty of relatable jokes based on our current political climate which take away the sting of some of the more confronting content.

Animal Farm. Photography by Daniel J Grant.

This is a demanding show featuring dozens of on stage and on screen characters with quick changes galore, which rarely give the cast a chance to catch their breath. Handling all of these demands with ease is the dynamic trio Andrea Gibbs, Alison van Reeken and Megan Wilding; who are truly the strength of this production. 

Each and every one of the trio’s many characters is fully embodied and developed, creating vast distinctions between the show’s most vulnerable characters and the power hungry, morally corrupt piggies. It’s evident the cast especially thrive within the comedic moments, where no matter the strength of the joke, the audience laughs most often come from the actor’s extravagant delivery.

Animal Farm. Photography by Daniel J Grant.

With several metal barricades placed from the front to the back of the stage, the set emulates a recent scene outside the CFMEU headquarters in Melbourne. Above the barricades sits a high platform and above that flies the large screen which spans across the stage. When taking it all in, the set looks like a concert stage not dissimilar to those set up by US Presidential Candidates for their rallies. 

The staging certainly sets the right tone of being cold, empty and intimidating. However, despite 98 percent of the show being performed down stage, the action felt removed. Perhaps the Studio Underground might’ve been a better space for this piece, to create a more present and involved feeling for the audience.

Regardless of its contemporary setting, the show honours the themes of the novel as it delivers many vital messages that will forever remain important and at the forefront of conversations. Bar some graphic imagery of slaughter houses, Animal Farm is an easily consumed piece of theatre and will no doubt aid many high school students in their understanding and maybe even appreciation of “that boring book”.

Animal Farm is on now and runs until Sunday 24 October in the Heath Ledger Theatre.