This stage version of George Orwell’s classic novel is actually considered a play with music. But Peter Hall’s adaptation — which opens on Wednesday in Studio A of the RDC Arts Centre — still contains 29 tunes to help tell this dystopian tale of farmyard unrest.
Orwell wrote Animal Farm in 1945 to tell an allegorical story of the Russian Revolution and the totalitarian Soviet State that followed, built upon Joseph Stalin’s cult of personality and rein of terror.
Animal Farm’s plot involves Old Boar planning a livestock uprising against the drunken and irresponsible farmer Jones. When Old Boar (who represents Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin) dies, the charge is led by two younger pigs — Snowball (based on Leon Trotsky), who wants to teach the animals to read and write, and the hardliner Napoleon, who is based on Stalin. Orwell’s clever story includes the heroic the Battle of the Cowshed, the struggle for leadership between Snowball and Napoleon, the eventual scapegoating of Snowball, and the rise of Napoleon, who begins to adopt the lifestyle of the human he replaces.
It’s not for nothing that Orwell used swine to tell the story of unscrupulous humans, acknowledged the play’s director, RDC instructor Lynda Adams, with a chuckle. With its infamous line “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” Orwell covers a good chunk of early 20th-century history with his story.
Even today, millions of people live under totalitarian regimes, said Adams, who recently visited the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, one of the few remaining one-party socialist states that officially espouse communism. Although Vietnamese citizens are allowed some private ownership of land, she said many people who opened up to her stated their preference for entrepreneurism.
“I’m not just interested in the politics of the play,” said Adams, but also in the characterizations that Animal Farm affords the young actors.
The 18 first-year theatre studies students will take on about 30 characters, including many four-footed ones — horses, goats, sheep, a donkey, hens, cows, a cat — and a notorious dog that does Napoleon’s bidding.
As well as researching and discussing the time period Orwell wrote about, the students are also learning to project animal characteristics into their speech and body language. Adams said all actors will wear basic grey outfits, but costume pieces — including ears and tails — will help denote their characters.
She hopes audience members will enjoy the play — live music will be provided by a local trio led by keyboardist Morgan McKee — and also find it thought-provoking enough to start their own discussions about “what is the best way to live and run a country.”
Many of her students concluded “there’s got to be a good mix” between individual freedoms and government responsibility, Adams added.
The play, appropriate for teens and adults, runs at 7:30 p.m. from April 13-16. There’s also a 1 p.m. matinee on April 16. Tickets are $21.80 ($17.80 students/seniors) from the Black Knight Ticket Centre.