Animal Farm

Seen on July 9, 2016 @ National Arts Festival, Grahamstown

“Seven decades have passed sine the first publication of Orwell’ Animal Farm, yet the plight of Manor Farm and its animal denizens is ever relevant in contemporary South Africa.” This opening paragraph from the Festival Programme invites to a seat at the sold out Rhodes Theatre where the stage is set to take us by force.

The black, khaki, brown and dusty costumes could refer to a farm anywhere. The story about the rise of communism and its propaganda is layered with meaning and becomes a reflection of current power struggles. With clear overtones and references to SA’s politics the critique on oppressive regimes gets a universal appeal, but who has ears must certainly hear.

And watch, because this adaptation of Animal Farm is visually stunning. Five women actors make us laugh and crimp with horror as the story unfolds. Words and movements are carried by a well thought trough choreography. The chickens, goats, horse and pigs decide to do away with Man (the farmer has to leave). Man Or Farm seems like a great idea at first, where animals overtake and seem to be running the business quite well. Production is up to speed and the harvest is rich. But when some show they are more clever than others, the 7 commandments of the farm loose their power as some take control. All animals are equal is the slogan. Manipulation to create an enemy, conspiracy theories, rules that no longer apply for the clever pigs, the horse that believes that by working harder he will get there, gestures that remind of the Nazi’s, the clash between Napoleon and Snowball, opposing voice that get oppressed and the blunt lies to keep the system going read like a continous critique on political affairs.  All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.

The all women cast in itself is a clear critique on patriarchal oppression. A lot of the action happens on stage in a stunning performance when the light is warm, reddish. Huge fights happen behind the scenes (where the enlarged shadows dwell) or in the pitch dark where a decadent orgy of power shows the true nature of the enlighted leader.

This adaptation by Neil Coppen is very funny, horrific, dressed up and to the point. I am still reeling with the imagery.

Photography: CuePix/Madeleine Chaput – National Arts Festival 2016