This new adaptation of Animal Farm is the second foray into classic Orwell for Tell Tale Theatre; they staged a barnstorming 1984 at the Kazimier a few years ago. This time, the community group recruited established city playwright Laurence Wilson to help turn their hand to the iconic allegorical tale.
And once again, it captured the company at its best. Having sourced out another non-conventional venue, the Arts Club on Seel Street (better known for live gigs) gave them plenty of scope. Orwell’s tale of mistreated farm animals who rise up to begin a peaceful, collective way of life only to sleepwalk into a new, more dangerous hierarchy remains as chilling as it ever was.
The first act sticks to the story as it would be well known to any reader; the unhappy animals overthrow the drunken Farmer Jones, who over-works and under-feeds them, to begin a commune they believe will inspire animals everywhere. Eventually, the pigs begin to use their intelligence to their advantage, quashing the original dream of equality and selling out their comrades for their own gain.
It was the second act that allowed writer Wilson (Urban Legend, Lost Monsters) to add his own stamp on things; and Tell Tale rose to the challenge well. As the original Animal Farm reflected the Russian Revolution, so Wilson snuck in a few similarly unsubtle, yet fitting points about modern politics and the welfare state. A scene where the pigs, behind the closed doors of the farmhouse, got drunk to celebrate their latest battle against the humans was a riot; and their final transformation was inventive and chilling.
Despite the mantra of “four legs good, two legs bad”, the cast played things straight, no curly tails or mucking about on hands and knees to divert attention, and just the occasional naturalistic whinny or bark to indicate character. Not handing the audience everything on a plate paid off very nicely. Leading the pack on this (no pun intended) was Rob Kavanagh as pig ringleader Napoleon, full of compelling menace; Lee Burnitt as the determined workhorse Boxer provided the emotional core of the story.
Some impressively-choreographed physical scenes helped depict battles and fights, and the space of the venue was used well. Emma Whitley’s direction covered all bases to tell a familiar story in a moving, intense and exciting new way.