Perth's Victoria Park Hotel is hosting a new staging of Orwell’s relevant morality tale

April 4, 2019

Animal Farm
Play adaption by Nelson Bond, based on the novel by George Orwell
Directed & produced by Sarah Christiner.
Life on Hold Productions.
Victoria Park Hotel, Perth
Until April 12

Adapted from George Orwell's 1945 allegorical fable, and directed by Sarah Christiner who directed last year’s adaptation of A Clock Work Orange for Life on Hold Productions, Animal Farm tells the story of a barnyard of farm animals, who after overthrowing their tyrannical human masters, seek to create a fairer society. Initially successful, the animals’ revolution is gradually undermined as a corrupt clique of pigs monopolise power and treat other animals as cruelly as the humans they overthrew.

The story starts when old Major, an old boar, calls a meeting in the barnyard and calls upon the other animals to rise and overthrow the cruel reign of Farmer Jones. Major then teaches all the other animals to sing “Beasts of England”. He also warns the animals never to adopt the ways of the humans. Soon afterwards, Major dies and all the other animals start working in secret to organise the rebellion. Soon the rebellion succeeds, sending Jones and his assistants fleeing.

Soon, led by the pigs, the animals distil Old Major's teachings into an ideology known as Animalism, which has the following seven commandments:

1. Whoever goes on two legs is an enemy

2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings is a friend

3. No animal shall wear clothes

4. No animals shall sleep in a bed

5. No animal shall drink alcohol

6. No animals shall kill any other animal

7. All animals are equal.

The animals build an egalitarian society where they manage to achieve the fruits of their own labour. However, even at this point the seeds of future corruption are present. The pigs justify taking all the apples and milk for themselves and doing all the leadership tasks, while other animals such as the ever-loyal draft horse Boxer do all the work.

Meanwhile, other human farmers hear of the rebellion. While publicly dismissing the idea of animals running a farm for themselves, the humans secretly dread the spread of rebellion on their own farms especially as they hear their own animals singing “Beasts of England” and a wave of rebelliousness spread across the farms. To crush this trend, Jones and the other farmers attack Animal Farm.

At the Battle of the Cowshed, a pig, Snowball, leads the animals in defeating the humans and is wounded himself. In the subsequent debates over the running of Animal Farm, Snowball argues for building a windmill and for educating the other animals to make everyone lives better. His opponent, Napoleon is absolutely opposed to these ideas. When it looks like Snowball is about to win the vote, Napoleon strikes, sending his viscous guard dogs onto Snowball, who barely escapes the farm alive.

After this coup, Napoleon with the help of his key propagandist, Squealer, monopolise all the power for themselves. Afterwards, through Squealer, Napoleon creates a cult of personality in which the history of Animal Farm is twisted to make Snowball the scapegoat for everything that goes wrong. Napoleon, however, is presented as never wrong, as summed up in Boxer's slogan: “Napoleon is always right”.

Despite the gradual unease all the other animals feel as all the things that the revolution stood for is distorted and twisted, they feel great pride. They manage to build the windmill, which Napoleon claims he always wanted to build. This is especially so after the humans invade the farm and blow up the windmill.

Eventually, however, the pigs become established as a privileged caste that oppresses the other animals. The tenants of Animalism are reduced until all that is left is the idea that “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than the others”. Ultimately, these betrayals lead to the point where none of the other animals can tell the pigs apart from the humans.

As an allegory for the Russian Revolution, Animal Farm is often seen by right-wingers as an argument that any revolution will inevitably be corrupted because of human nature. Therefore, the failure of socialism is inevitable.

However, Animal Farm is more a warning about that totalitarianism can emerge from any political system. As such, we need to guard against the cult of personality of the sort built around Napoleon,  and instead cultivate democracy from the bottom – as Snowball sought but failed to do.

The play’s narrator Petrina Harley, told Green Left Weekly,: “It was the greed of the pigs of the pigs that ruin the vision. In the beginning, the farm is living up to Orwell ideal. The animals are working collectively, reaping profits, managing the farm and the means of production, and gradually it is when the pigs start taking the profits and the surplus for themselves that things started to go wrong.”

AJ Lowe, who plays Snowball, said the best way to safeguard against totalitarianism and corrupt was to go back to the original ideas of socialism, and create democratic institutions such as workers’ councils that can ensure all get their say.

This adaptation brilliantly brings to life Orwell fable, relying on facial expressions to convey the message of the play and is even more relevant in political climate and a grave warning about the potential corruption of a revolution if we are not vigilant. The Communist Party of Australia will be hosting a Question and Answer session after the showing of the play on April 3 and 10.

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