Corruption of power, political propaganda, the poor working longer for less reward.
These themes resonate as much in today’s society as they did when George Orwell wrote his fantasy tale, Animal Farm, towards the end of the Second World War.
At that time Britain was in a wartime alliance with the Soviet Union but Orwell regarded the Russian leader Joseph Stalin as a brutal dictator, a view not shared by a large proportion of the British population.
A Stalin-esque pig is the main character in his farmyard fable which draws parallels with events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and beyond.
Oppression, rebellion and murder are played out by the animals who overcome a neglectful human enemy to seize control of their home.
It’s a story which presents a challenge to stage but one which Hasland Theatre Company, director Audrey Redfern and musical director Barbara Downey rise to admirably in presenting this Peter Hall adaptation of Orwell’s classic.
Dressed in animal masks and workmanlike boiler suits, the 20-strong cast play pigs, horses, chickens, sheep, dogs and a cat. Even a large raven makes a cameo appearance.
Christopher Selbie gives an outstanding performance as the practical pig Napoleon who ousts his idealistic, likeable rival Snowball (played by Tom Bannister) to seize control of the farm. The character’s transformation into self-centred swine consumed by power and greed is impressive as is Christopher’s rendition of signature solo, Napoleon’s Song.
Heather Davies matches him performance-wise as steely-eyed, cold-hearted Squealer, charged with enforcing Napoleon’s orders among the underlings. Particularly impressive is the way in which Heather curls her second and third fingers into her palms to make her gloved hands look like pig’s trotters.
Val Davies, Jenny Clewlow and Ann Pinney sound convincing as the broody hens, chirruping away contentedly then squawking with alarm when forced to surrender their eggs at nesting time.
A beautiful characterisation of the image-obsessed, self-serving show pony Mollie is given by Louise Sweeney whose lovely voice carries off the solo Twenty-Seven Ribbons in style.
John Hopkinson playing wise old horse Boxer, Dave Banks as propaganda poet pig Minimus, Harry Holloway as senior boar Old Major, and Harry Simpson as drunken farmer add commentary and colour to the proceedings.
The overriding message of the piece is that power and avarice can transform those who have it in their grasp into the enemy they once despised.
Political themes do come over loud and clear but narrators Ed Telfer and Carol Cooper, who tell the story on alternate nights, remind the audience that this is a fairy story.
Animal Farm continues its run at Hasland Playhouse from Monday, November 23 to Saturday, November 28 at 7.30pm.
Photo by Graham Martin