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Visceral, thought-provoking, terrific theatre

shake & stir actors in “Animal Farm”.

Theatre / Animal Farm, adapted by Nick Skubij, directed by Michael Futcher, shake & stir theatre co, Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse, to May 8. Reviewed by LEN POWER.

GEORGE Orwell’s novella “Animal Farm” may be 77 years old now, but its message is still relevant today and maybe more so.

Just think of Donald Trump’s “fake news”, the North Korea of Kim Jong-un, the frightening persuasiveness of our social media, and so on.

If you feel uncomfortable watching it, it’s because the events portrayed are not so far from our current world. The theatre production by shake & stir is bold and breathtaking, capturing the spirit of the story in theatrical terms extremely well.

A group of farm animals rebel against their human farmer, hoping to create a society where the animals can be equal, free and happy. Ultimately, the rebellion is betrayed, and the farm ends up as bad as it was before, under the dictatorship of a pig named Napoleon.

The decision to present the animals with minimal props and costume pieces for identification means the actors must convince us with their performances. Slipping in and out of characterisations to be narrators as well as animals is a gamble that might not have worked, but it actually adds to our willingness to accept the characters and incidents played out before us.

The actors are totally convincing as the animals. The ensemble playing of Darcy Brown, Tim Dashwood, Nelle Lee, Gideon Mzembe and Steven Rooke is truly remarkable. It’s hard to believe there are only five performers playing a multitude of different animals with such in-depth characterisations. It’s a very physical, fast-moving production requiring timing, energy and stamina. They must be exhausted by the end.

Josh McIntosh has designed an attractive, towering set with all the elements of a typical old farm against which the chilling events play out. The complex lighting by Jason Glenwright adds to the atmosphere, as does the extraordinary sound design by Guy Webster.

Director Michael Futcher has made all the right decisions with this outstanding production.  It’s terrific theatre – visceral, thought-provoking, visually startling and entertaining – and it’s not to be missed.

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