Animal Farm (FringeTIX)
Gary Shelford @ Holden Street Theatres (The Arch)
2:30pm, Wed 7 Mar 2007
Don’t let the somewhat zany photo on the ads for this production fool you – this is pretty much a straight up narration of Orwell’s work, with Shelford occasionally dropping into character: an effeminate Squealer hides a fantastically nasty streak, Snowball is portrayed with a wide-eyed and innocent enthusiasm, and Napoleon was utterly terrifying during his moments of rage, with Shelford appearing to loom large on stage to accommodate the boar’s enormous presence.
Boxer, in particular, was so well developed that his death (oh no! a spoiler!) brought a tear to my eye. In general, Shelford brings the farm to life with nowt onstage but a small box; it’s a great performance, full of enthusiasm and wit – the sheep provide beautiful – if ironic – comic relief. There’s also the odd aside to give the text a contemporary feel – snippets of speeches by Tony Blair accompany the announcements of Napoleon, and there’s a witty flourish with some of the attack dogs being called “Howard” and “Costello”. Yes, it’s contrived, and yes, it’s cheap, but it’s also a throwaway departure which doesn’t detract overall.
In fact, there’s little negative to report from this show, with the exception of the air-conditioning which occasionally drip-drip-dripped onto the wooden floors and a rather annoying aural distraction. But that aside, this performance of Guy Masterson’s adaptation of Orwell’s corruption tome is… just bloody good theatre.