Power to the pig Animal Farm heads to Perth

AAR-BSSTC-Animal-Farm-Andrea-Gibbs-photo-by-Richard-JeffersonPolitical powerhouse Van Badham (Banging Denmark, The Guardian) delivers an internet fast, brilliantly sharp adaptation of George Orwell’s response to authoritarian government in Animal Farm in the Heath Ledger Theatre from 2 to 24 October.

This is Orwell not like you’ve seen before, but a contemporary styled version. The characters and plot adhere to his seminal allegory of anti-Stalinist satire, but with an infusion of modern technology and politics.

“Make animal farm great!” is the mantra that carries on through the production, making it impossible to miss the connection to current world issues. Van Badham’s version contemporises the story that is about the brutality of power in today’s political landscape of fake news and borrows from Trump cues.

The play will be a veritable “Barnyard Collage” using many different ways of depicting animals – masks, onesies and actual animals (on screen). The set design includes a giant cinema-sized screen as the backdrop, shared with actors on stage.

The play will be a power-packed 75 minutes, a wacky and wild ride of different worlds on screen and on stage, where the audience can see how propaganda is manipulated into truth. Think CNN meets the ABC meets Fox News.

The farm animals conjure up many real-life counterparts that feel eerily familiar. Napoleon, the power-hungry pig with a knack for distorting reality; Squealer, the spokesperson (or should we say spokespig?) with no fears of conscience; Boxer, the hard worker who remains loyal – right up until he is ultimately betrayed.

Old Major’s dream of a utopian society of equality (coined animalism) free from human dominance, is subverted by Napoleon and quickly loyalties are divided, promises betrayed and mayhem ensues.

These archetypes have been seen before, not just in the pages of George Orwell’s original novella, but in real world scenarios across the globe. In politics, corporations, and businesses. Selfish gain at the expense of others.

The maxim “Four legs good, two legs better” soon replaces the old maxim condemning two legs and by the end of the play Napoleon is indistinguishable from his human predecessors. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Directed by Emily McLean (Unsung Heroes, Dust), Animal Farm features the comedic skills of ABC Presenter and co-founder and creative producer of Barefaced Stories, Andrea Gibbs, popular and regular Black Swan performer Alison Van Reeken (The Next Room/The Vibrator Play, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll), and WAAPA graduate and prolifically talented actor, writer and director Megan Wilding (Tonsills and Tweezers, Blackie Blackie Brown).

Animal Farm features video design by Michael Carmody (Assassins, Let the Right One In), music composed by Rachael Dease, and set and costume design by Fiona Bruce (The Seagull, Water). The Heath Ledger Theatre has been converted to a giant cinema-sized screen in a unique interplay of “reality” on stage and broadcast fake news in a sharp satire that boils with the potency and emergency of a viral tweet.

“Animal Farm is Orwell versus Badham, tragedy battling farce in the fight for Internet land,” said Van Badham. “This is no gentle fable … It’s gonna be like watching CNN, if the hosts during a political crisis were all stand-up comedians but also pigs and cows and you’ve just had twenty coffees and are trapped in a runaway train. Strap in!”

Van Badham is the award-winning writer of more than 30 internationally- produced plays for stage and radio. She began a weekly column for The Guardian in 2013 and appears regularly on television and radio in her role as a commentator, critic and activist.

Van has had plays and musical theatre developed and produced across Australia, Europe and North America. Her most recent Australian theatre productions include Banging Denmark for Sydney Theatre Company at the Opera House, The Bloody Chamber for Malthouse, The Bull, the Moon and the Coronet of Stars for Griffin, Merrigong and Hothouse, Big Baby for Terrapin and Late Night Story at the Adelaide Fringe. Her commissioners include MTC, Queensland Theatre, Black Swan, Malthouse, Griffin, Merrigong, HotHouse, Terrapin and the Tasmanian Theatre Company.

In Britain, Van was based as the writer-in-residence at LAMDA for two years. Her UK work has included collaborations with companies including the Royal Court Theatre, the Bush (for Paines Plough), Nabokov, the Battersea Arts Centre, Luxi and Theatre503, as well as at the Edinburgh Fringe and on the touring circuit.

Her plays have had professional productions across America, Canada, Iceland, Germany, Switzerland and Austria and her international theatre commissions include Swamplands for the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia and The Story of D- Star K for the Bern Stadttheater in Switzerland.

Van’s radio commissions have been for the BBC World Service, Radio 4, and Radio 3 and her first screenplay, We Come Home, was developed with a grant from the Australian Writers’ Guild. Van is a former Literary Manager of the Finborough Theatre London (2009-2011) and was Artistic Associate at the Malthouse Melbourne (2011-2013) before moving to her present position at The Guardian.

Director: Emily McLean | Featuring: Andrea Gibbs, Alison van Reeken, Megan Wilding | Set & Costume Designer: Fiona Bruce | Lighting Designer: Karen Cook | Composer & Sound Designer: Rachael Dease | Video Designer: Michael Carmody | Dramaturg: Polly Low | Writer: Van Badham

Animal Farm
Heath Ledger Theatre – State Theatre Centre of WA, 174 – 176 William Street, Perth
Season: 6 – 24 October 2021 (previews: 2 – 5 October)
Information and Bookings: www.bsstc.com.au

Image: Andrea Gibbs stars in Animal Farm – photo by Richard Jefferson