Animal Farm at Riverside Theatres

The State Theatre Company's (South Australia) production of Animal Farm has made its way across the country to Sydney's Riverside Theatre for a brand new adaptation of George Orwell’s political classic.

Revolution is coming to Manor Farm. Under the guidance of some rebellious pigs, a group of farm animals unite to drive out their cruel human oppressors and build utopia. But the swine are not as united as they appear and their division gives rise to a terrifying new system of power and repression. Written in the 1940s as a response to the rise of authoritarian governments around the world, Animal Farm is a searing examination of extremist rule.

A scintillating take on one of the greatest stories of English literature and a sublime, unadorned piece of theatrical storytelling, Animal Farm will see Dale March inhabit upwards of 20 characters. Rosie asked Dale some questions ahead of his performance - read all below:

Dale March

Many people will be familiar with George Orwell’s political classic Animal Farm, but since then, the most well-known iteration of this story is the animated film with a multitude of characters, which is a very different interpretation to this newest stage production. Can you explain how the idea for a one-man version developed, and how this will change the presentation of the story?

 

Only Geordie (Brookman – Director) could answer precisely how the idea for this version was conceived. For me, the piece lends itself thematically to a one-person version because it helps blur the lines of culpability. When we see a story traditionally told with each character inhabited by a different actor, it is easier to gravitate towards identifying with a particular perspective of right and wrong, good and bad. Having one person embody all perspectives hopefully loosens the viewers’ grip on where responsibility accurately resides.

As for the 1954 animated film version, anyone who has seen that can expect a twist to the ending. Our production stays true to Orwell’s novel, while the film was funded by the CIA as Cold War anti-Russian propaganda.

Perhaps the most well-known quote in Animal Farm is the iconic “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.” Although this text was written in 1945, it feels very much like this quote still holds relevance today. What do you hope this production of Animal Farm will achieve and what conversations would you like to start?

 

The book is broadly recognised as a response to, and critique of, Soviet Russia. Delving into this history as part of my research has at the very least nudged me on a journey of investigating in earnest the role, influence and potential of ideologies. Viewers may be led by Orwell to ponder “How exactly seemingly good people end up doing reprehensible things?”, “Can political differences engage in constructive dialogue rather than inciting further polarization in the striving for Utopian ideals?”, or whether we are indeed doomed to the inevitable collapse into Authoritarianism. Or maybe they will debate whether pigs are indeed smarter than other animals.

Because this text was originally written in 1945, have you had to make adaptations to the script or change interpretations of scenes to make it as relevant as possible to a 2019 audience? What can audiences expect when they come to this show?

 

The genius of Orwell’s text is that as long as there are humans on the planet, we will always respond to the themes of this story. I am no historian, sociologist or biologist but it seems clear that we still have a long way (perhaps forever) to go in muscling out the complex social structures of power, hierarchy and equality.

Although Orwell’s novel is a short read, the thrill of this production is seeing the scope of the story unfold with shocking swiftness over the 80 minutes it runs. I love it (and am terrified by it) because it demands a kind of Olympic dexterity from the performance. Supported beautifully by all the design elements, director Geordie Brookman and assistant director Clara Solly-Slade steer Orwell’s fable into the heart of theatre making – that is, the imagination.

In one show, we see one actor inhabit upwards of 20 characters, which is an incredible feat. How has working on so many characters in one show changed your rehearsal process? What value does having one person perform multiple characters have for this production?

 

Playing upwards of a dozen roles demands sustained mental and physical alertness. One of the greatest challenges of rehearsing the piece has been building up the stamina to keep present and focused. The vocal adjustments have been equally engaging. While one may discover a thrilling voice for a character, you are always balancing your capacity to maintain it without damaging your voice. It’s been a wonderful experience of pushing my limits.

RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:

Favourite production you have ever seen?

The first “favourite” that jumps to mind was Abbey Theatre’s Medea with Fiona Shaw. I saw it on Broadway and was sufficiently rattled. It was an inspiring example of ancient text being dragged into the present with vivid power.

You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?

I would go straight to New York. I have dear friends there who I see far too rarely.

Dream role to perform? 

If we leave Shakespeare aside, one of my dream roles would be Pale in Lanford Wilson’s Burn This.

Plays or musicals?

A hobby you have beyond the theatre?

Tinkering away at the piano or drawing are my usual go-to hobbies when I have a free moment.

What’s next for you after this show?

Once Animal Farm wraps up I begin work on A View From the Bridge which Kate Champion will direct for State Theatre Company South Australia in July.

Animal Farm plays at Riverside until April 3rd and tickets are available here

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