Animal Farm

Based on a story by George Orwell, Adapted by Tom McLennan
Shorefields Drama Group
Unity Theatre, 10th-11th May 2005

Reviewed by Adam Ford

In 1945, George Orwell published Animal Farm - a political fable that angered both left and right but became a regular feature on school curriculums and reading lists around the world.

Tired of being abused by their human masters, Manor Farm’s animals rebel and decide to set-up their own perfect society. In theory, every animal’s needs will be taken care of and they will live dignified, fulfilling lives. But the pigs gradually establish a hypocritical new order that is just as bad as the one it replaced.

It’s a certainly a great story, but one that is very difficult to bring to the stage. For one thing, an entire script has to be written, since the novel is mostly descriptive. Perhaps even more importantly, Orwell’s references to the Soviet Union now belong to a different age. How relevant can you make the play when the Berlin Wall has long since crumbled and nobody trusts politicians anymore anyway?

Local writer Tom McLennan had a good go at dealing with these problems for this Liverpool-based production. The use of scouse dialect rooted the story geographically, and this worked well - lending humour and making it easy to empathise with the tragic characters. Technological tricks such as a projected TV debate over whether or not to build a windmill gave the events a modern feel, although they also stretched the Russian Revolution allegory to breaking point. There were difficulties with pacing the story; at times in the first half there was too much going on in different areas of the stage, whereas the second half was almost devoid of dramatic tension.

The production’s greatest strength lay in the quality of the acting. Almost all the performers seemed ‘real’ because they looked enthusiastic about being in the play, as opposed to just any play. Richard Helm made an impressive Boxer, rallying his fellow animals to ever greater efforts towards their dreams of freedom. Richie Grice was assured as the evil Napoleon, whilst Gerard Fitzpatrick Howkins revelled in the malevolence of the scheming Squealer, playing the public face of the pig regime as equal parts spin doctor and SS officer.

Shorefields is a community drama group based in the Dingle, and has a full programme of productions as well as running the ‘Drama in the Dingle’ festival.

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