Down at the Farm
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”: the oft-cited aphorism from George Orwell's novella, ‘Animal Farm', will be brought to life by the Gilbert and Sullivan Society's production of the story, adapted for the stage by Peter Hall, this month at the City Hall theatre.
Under the direction of visiting director Matt McGowan, a cast of youngsters and adults will enact Orwell's allegory of the Russian Revolution which describes the slow corruption of Old Major's vision of an ideal farm on which no animal is exploited and all are deemed equal. In the end, the pigs become worse exploiters of the farm animals than the humans had been.
“A lot of people have read the book,” observed 11-year-old India Wilson, one of the play's two narrators. “They will find it interesting to see it visually.”
The play, while not strictly a musical, has musical elements, with music by Richard Peaslee and lyrics by Adrian Mitchell. The pigs Napoleon, Snowball and Old Major are played by Gary Skelton, Jenny Burrell and Mike Jones respectively, while Rowan Vickers plays Squealer, and faithful Boxer is played by Malachi Simmons.
India and fellow Warwick Academy student Philip Matthias narrate the tale, which India described as “moving”.
“It makes you really think about what happens,” she noted. “When Mr Jones is the leader he whips [the animals] and tortures them.”
Philip also found the action compelling: “It's really good. It's interesting. It's all about ideas and how political stuff works. At first I didn't really understand everything, but through rehearsals I've caught on.”
Both are thrilled to get key roles in the play.
Though India has been in a number of productions, it's usually been as a member of the chorus, so “this is the first time I'm in a big role that's really important, so it's actually quite fun to do it.”
The number of lines to learn can be daunting, Philip acknowledged.
“When I got the part I was really excited,” he declared. “At first I was a little bit scared because I had so many lines to learn, but now I've kinda learnt them all and feel a bit confident.”
For Madelyn Moore and Quinceé Dill, who both play hens, this is their first G&S production. Quinceé had some acting instruction while residing in Georgia, and now “I am having so much fun ‘cos I'm doing something I love and I'm getting so much practice doing it.”
Madelyn is also enjoying the acting experience thoroughly. “I like acting,” she noted, “and I've never got to be in a proper production.” And what of working with adults? “The grown-ups are much more fun than school actors,” Madelyn declared.
With her high-pitched voice, Quinceé believes she is perfect for the role of hen, “because hens are clucky and high pitched.” The hens, she noted, “have a dumb kind of character. They're still trying to catch on to things.”
Madelyn agrees. “They're cool,” she noted of the hens. “They twitch their heads a lot. They're small and I like small things. They're not annoying, but they're not really helpful.”
At the other end of the farm's power structure are the dogs, the pigs' enforcers. For CedarBridge Academy student Makeda Simmons, taking on the role of a dog is fun.
Though the dogs don't really do much, “It's fun to be evil. You feel like a big dog, because they act like they're scared of you, like you're the boss. The animals are terrified of us.”
Makeda has been in a number of productions before, including G&S's ‘Oliver!' and thinks ‘Animal Farm' is going to be a really good show.
“[Matt] McGowan's an amazing director, and even if [the young audience] don't understand the political elements, the story itself is interesting, the actors are good and the singing is interesting.”
Madelyn concurred: “It's a really good play to put on. It shows that humans shouldn't be abusive to animals and they should treat them as if they're equal.”
‘Animal Farm' runs March 23, 24, 25 at 8pm, and March 26 at 4pm. Tickets available at www.gands.bm, $30 for March 23 and $35 for other nights.