Reviewed by Olivia Farag
Animal Farm opened this week at New Theatre in Newtown offering quite a few twists and surprises of this well-known masterpiece by George Orwell.
Orwell’s book was published in 1945 causing a wave of controversy and debate over the years for its biting political satire. Orwell’s work is set on a farm where anthropomorphic animals are led into a bloody and victorious rebellion against their cruel human masters, only to have their new-found freedom gradually crumble under the crushing and tyrannical regime of their new leader, Napoleon, an imposing and formidable boar pig.
Animal Farm would have been no mean feat to adapt to the stage given its large cast of human and animal characters, complex ideologies and pivotal scenes of extreme violence. However, from the outset of the play, it is clear this production is in the hands of a very skilful playwright and director (Saro Lusty-Cavallari) who effortlessly makes this piece work for a contemporary Australian context.
Far from being intellectually dense, both the book and stage adaptation are pleasantly accessible to people of ages, with easy-to-follow allegorical references that allude to darker and more sinister themes and characters. Indeed, it is the performances of each and every actor on stage that makes Animal Farm such a wonderous delight and terror to watch.
Some of the standout performances include Squealer (Zoe Crawford) who absolutely steals every scene with her hilarious Julia Gilliard-esque inspired performance, followed by Napoleon (Angus Evans) who is every inch (and hoof) the scheming tyrannical psychopath, and Boxer (Laura Djanegara) who’s mantra “I will work harder” becomes more and more heartbreaking until she eventually succumbs to fatigue and exhaustion.
The remaining cast do a superb job of interchangeably moving between man and beast, which leads to a conclusion that is both contradictory and on point with the book’s final scene; that humans and animals are essentially the same in terms of their primal need for survival, and that ‘survival of the fittest’ comes to a dear cost to those who don’t play the political game.
Overall, this play is a highly recommended evening for lovers of theatre, literature, animal liberation and anyone who enjoys a good political debate. With plenty of pivotal moments and whip-crackling scenes, one is sure to be thoroughly entertained and moved by this perfectly cast and well-executed production.
George Orwell’s Animal Farm, adapted by Saro Lusty-Cavallari, is on from 13 October – 7 November 2020 at New Theatre, Newtown. For bookings go to newtheatre.org.au.