Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Animal Farm by George Orwell, adapted for the stage by shake&stir theatre company

Animal Farm by George Orwell, adapted for the stage by shake&stir theatre company (Brisbane), directed by Michael Futcher.  At The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, March 5-7, 2013.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
March 5

shake&stir is essentially a theatre-in-education youth theatre group – and young people came along in considerable numbers.  The applause from them and from those of us who are somewhat beyond youth was for a very satisfying piece of theatre, which made the message of Orwell’s famous cautionary tale absolutely clear.

All of us benefitted from a reminder to watch out for the con men and women of politics, especially when they spout slogans which morph mysteriously from All animals are equal to All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others!  There could be no more salutary lesson for us in this election year.

The success of this 90 minute adaptation relied on high energy precision in movement and voice by the cast of five, playing over 30 animal characters plus brief narration roles; and on equally high energy and precision in the sound track and visuals.  It was a joy for me to see multi-media and stage action thoroughly integrated, yet never becoming robotic (as I have seen in some children’s shows, for example, like Dora the Explorer performed to a pre-recorded tape).

Here, Ross Balbuziente, Nick Skubij, Tim Dashwood, Bryan Probets, and Nelle Lee (especially in her role of Molly, the horse who could not resist sugar, ribbons and a properly brushed mane) were all spot on in their timing and mood creation.  This Animal Farm was a revolution in action from go to whoa, never a comfortable fable of talking quadrupeds.  Or rather: Two legs Bad, Four legs (or two legs with wings) Good – or the chooks would never have stayed.

The set was quite extraordinarily complex, especially for a touring group to cart around the country.  It must be constructed as a huge jigsaw of pieces of myriad shapes and sizes, including speakers, lights and projector.  I can only admire the designer, Josh McIntosh, for his ingenuity – and the lighting designer, Jason Glenwright, and composer/sound designer Guy Webster – in making a set where actors, lights and sounds, and visuals on screens could all come and go in the right places at dizzying speed.

No roadie’s name is recorded in the program, so I presume everyone must be congratulated for amazing teamwork just to bump in and bump out.  Maybe Michael Futcher whips them all into place every night, unless they have all become as compliant as 457 Visa holders in the mining industry.  Whatever – it’s a great show for old and young to learn or re-learn Orwell’s warning.

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