George Orwell’s classic allegory about the Russian Revolution is a serious political satire in children’s wrapping paper. Originally subtitled ‘A Fairy Story’, it swaps historical heavyweights like Trotsky and Stalin for talking pigs, and the battlegrounds of Moscow and Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg) for a farmyard; but the veil is thin, and all too soon we are reminded how idealism made way for tyranny.
the young actors brought so much energy and enthusiasm to the production that you couldn’t help but enjoy it.
In the Fringe production by Windmill Young Actors, Animal Farm was in the hands of seven 15-year-olds who brought the book to life with mixed success. While their inexperience carried a certain charm, it also served to distract from the gravity of the tale, as some actors seemed more concerned with making animal noises than delivering their lines.
That said, the most important themes came through, in part thanks to a script that was sensitive to the continuing exploitation of the working classes under the Stalin era. The key figures of Snowball (Trotsky/Lenin) and Napoleon (Stalin) were easily identifiable and worked to represent the yin and yang of the novel’s dynamic.
The production also communicated the fickleness of the masses at a time when cult of personality was the trump card. The secondary characters shifted from one side to another, according to what – or rather who – was in vogue. Zoe Alexander put in a good performance as Boxer, the tireless horse, with a kind of naïve wistfulness reminiscent of Cassie Ainsworth’s character in Skins.
For all its merits, this adaptation of Orwell’s Animal Farm felt like a school play – jejune and rough around the edges. However, the young actors brought so much energy and enthusiasm to the production that you couldn’t help but enjoy it. If they forgo the oinking and tidy up the scraps of song, they will do Orwell’s classic a lot more justice.