In A Nutshell
Visceral and twisted, this bold reworking of Orwell’s masterpiece is supported by a savage cast.
The animals are revolting. Tired of their lot, the animals take over their farm by force. But after the death of Old Boy who led the first revolution, a new and dangerous regime has crept in.
This modern adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm uses modern language and imagery to explore just how relevant Orwell’s text is today in the wake of social unrest and austerity. The company, Community Links, also involves the participation of local school children throughout.
James Kenworth’s adaptation is as raw and ready as they come. The dialogue employs common vocabulary and slang instead of any eloquence or clever wording. Yet Kenworth loses nothing by doing so, and if anything makes it more vibrant. Whilst all the main characters and plot points are there, what this modern setting does is help you connect it so much more readily to the current socio-political climate, often scraping a little too close to home truths. For example, the younger animals berating education and opting for ignorance becomes particularly unnerving, especially when it’s performed by Newham’s young residents themselves. It’s overall a pretty brutal and certainly strikes all the chords that the original book had meant to.
Kenworth has also adapted the novel well for the space. Whilst the ‘humans’ are completely cut from appearing and the battles only suggested they are far from absent. It means that their significance in the tale is still present, but means the production doesn’t labour itself in doing something which it wouldn’t be able to execute properly for want of a bigger cast and production resources.
Direction & Production
Director James Martin Charlton does well to pilot the show around the small farm spaces, including the picnic area, the barn, and a paddock, making good use within these spaces to separate characters to create distance and enmity between characters as well as closeness and intimacy.
However, the production as a whole results in the only main criticism of the show: it starts to drag noticeably towards the end. Promenade performances are always prone to suffering from a dipping of pace due to the nature of needing to break the momentum by moving actors and audience around. But the bareness of the production doesn’t help matters. There are moments where lighting and sound design could help keep the atmosphere and the tension going, as well as colour the performance spaces better to bring out an aesthetic engagement. However, it’s possible that these things are simply not doable due to the constraints of the production’s budget and/or the venue itself. But it is a bit frustrating because, when you imagine the show being done in a more traditional theatre with the same cast and text but more scope for production, you can see the potential for Kenworth’s adaptation to be even more thrilling than it currently is.
Otherwise, Ian Teague’s costume’s are wonderfully twisted. Face paint, hoodies, and masks distort the faces of the cast into some uneasy hybrid of modern masked vigilantes and animals. Indeed, sometimes you do wonder whether Kenworth’s characters are actually animals like they are in the book, or a disguised angry young human mob. Again, this really helps the connection of Orwell’s themes to a more modern day relevance, but also serves for quite a dramatic transformation of the pigs into humans, especially given the casts physical performance abilities.
Chartlon and his team have done an excellent job of finding a troupe of professional actors to act alongside the community’s youth for this production. Particularly, their physical performance abilities are striking. If Teague’s costumes didn’t already make the cast look enough like modern half-human half-beast atrocities, the way the cast twitch, grunt and snort in such a base and animalistic manner will have you questioning the nature of the creatures beneath the masks. In fact, they’re so absorbing to watch, that you quickly forget the idiosyncrasies of the venue, such as the rather out of place ping-pong table, and forgive the bareness of the production as it’s them that you become engrossed in.
At the same time, they are also all particularly powerful actors who’ve really embraced Kenworth’s vision: they’re as slick , streetwise, and energetic as the students they perform alongside. Particular mention must go to Kevin Kinson, as Warrior, who’s brute force in presence, voice, and physicality really drives the show. He also brings a sweet tenderness in his chemistry with Katie Arnstein, as Lil’ Monster, teasing out a more human side to Orwell’s dystopic catastrophe. Furthermore, Nicola Alexis, as Daddy Love, revels marvellously in her role as the smarmy and charismatic leader figure. She comes across consistently psychotic and dangerous, oozing rabid megalomania through every inch of her body and vocals, and frighteningly, in her eyes also.
It’s also great to see Community Links working with the local populace to be involved in a professional production. The enthusiasm of the younger members, particularly those playing the hens and dogs, really pays off and makes them feel as valuable an asset to the production as the professional actors.
Kenworth’s inspired and brutal adaptation is both bold and powerful, especially when executed by this savage cast. The novelty of seeing the show on an actual farm quickly turns into a deep immersion in a relevant and disconcerting take on Orwell’s revered cautionary satire.[youtube http://youtu.be/F3sCHWrd6V4]
Revolution Farm plays at Newham City Farm, London, E6 5LT, until 24 August 2014. Tickets are £10 (concessions available, £5 for Newham residents). To book, visit www.revolutionfarm.ticketsource.co.uk.