By Mark Bolsover
With a sparse set, good musical performances, but slightly confused and confusing physical work, Theatre Tours International, Guy Masterson, and Tumanishvili Film Actors’ Theatre (Georgia) present a simple, straightforward, and faithful adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, translated into Georgian, with English surtitles.
In particular, through the effective musical adaptation of his text and the musical performance of the twenty five strong cast, the production captures and emphasises Orwell’s concern with the perversion of revolutionary art and revolutionary principles through their appropriation as a veil for the regime which ultimately usurps them.—The warped ghosts of the art and principles of revolution are maintained as goads to the consciences of those who could never bring themselves to consciously betray them and who are thus led, surreptitiously to do exactly that.
However, the sheer size of the cast, and their (at least initial) slightly messy arrangement or deployment in the space, creates—at the outset—a confusing cacophony, within which it is difficult to distinguish the principals and the species of animals. The cast continually reiterate their animal’s noises throughout the performance, and this is presumably intended to form a sort of naturalistic background to the main dialogue, but in fact, more often than not, serves to drown it out and obscure it. The projection and voice work by the principals is not (again,—initially) strong enough to counter the sheer mass of voices. Though this does improve markedly as the show progresses, with the physical and voice work gradually falling in sync (particularly as the herd is thinned, so to speak), it does serve, at the outset, to render the animals a loud, stupid, and violent mob, obscuring the legitimate political and material concerns they and their revolution re meant to embody.
This is not helped by unimaginative costume and make-up and fairly low-key and generic performances of animal traits. Principals and species are established slowly here and only through constant (verbal) repetition.
The portrayal of Napoleon is also problematic. Here, accompanied by a somewhat over the top sound design, he is portrayed as a domineering thug, rather than as a brilliant, cynical and ultimately cowardly political mastermind. As a result, the cruelly manipulated personal guard and minions with which he surrounds himself are rendered somewhat superfluous.
The adaptation here is faithful and effective, even if it offers no real new insight into Orwell’s text. The musical score and performances work well, but the show is let down somewhat by initially clumsy physical choreography and direction and by the unimaginative realisation of the animals.
Animal Farm, Assembly George Square Theatre (Venue 8), 31 July–24 August (excluding the 11th and 18th) 12.00 (1hr 30mins)