Animal Farm

Animal Farm

shake & stir

QPAC Cremorne

15th – 25th May 2013


 Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.


In a recent Lowy Institute poll, 60 per cent of Australians are now indifferent to democracy while only 39 per cent of 18 to 29-year-olds believe democracy is preferable to other forms of government.

This is the return season of shake and stir’s adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. I didn’t see the original production so I was determined to get to it this time. Directed by Michael Futcher, and designed by Brisbane’s theatrical Dream Team (Josh McIntosh, Jason Glenwright & Guy Webster), this is a powerful political production, true to the text, nicely adapted by Nick Skubij. Originally published in 1944, Animal Farm tracks events leading up to the Russian Revolution, and explores allegorically, Communism under Stalin.


The only problem I have with this production is its conclusion. Up until the final sixty seconds or so, this is shake and stir at their provocative, political, theatrical best, with the perfect combination of some of Brisbane’s best actors and a deft director’s hand to bring this morality tale into context for new (and returning) audiences. While the story is bookended beautifully by the use of animated shadow imagery (the opening is gruesome and it’s perfect), the final picture doesn’t seem to have a strong enough impact. But when I spoke to others they were surprised that I’d even mentioned it.


A ninety-minute actors’ boot camp, Animal Farm is a must-see for students and teachers of performance and design, but also for anybody who enjoys a good story told exceptionally well. This is theatricality of the best sort, for the purpose of powerful storytelling. Whether we learn a lesson or not, we enjoy the process and when it’s over it’s not; we have masses to talk about and we’re pleased to have made the effort to get out of the house and into the theatre.


Animal Farm

The cast is superb, with the founders and creators of shake and stir at its core (Nelle Lee, Ross Balbuziente and Nick Skubij), and Bryan Probets and Timothy Dashwood completing an impressive, multi-skilled ensemble. The physically and vocally demanding characters are switched on and off masterfully, with the actors’ animal gestures and sounds truly replicating a farmyard’s activity and cacophony, complete with tin pail percussion and lots of mud!


The chilling soundscape and original score, designed by Guy Webster, adds the edge to this production, as does an imposing set, by Josh McIntosh, giving us the dizzying heights of progress and the simple spaces that are home to the workers who make progress possible. The actors utilise ladders, levels, doors, windows, and all sorts of hidden spaces to keep the pace going, when a less imaginative company might fuss with superfluous costume and set changes. In fact, this is the most detailed and economically designed production I’ve seen in place in the Cremorne, and even more impressive than that, is the fact that this same set has fit (and will continue to fit) into different venues across the country! McIntosh is clearly a Lego Master Builder from way back. Jason Glenwright’s cinematic layered lighting design swings between The Wizard of Oz and The Twilight Zone, such is his uncanny sense of exactly what it is we need to see. Is there any other creative team in town so in synch with every aspect of production as well as each other? If there is I’m yet to see the evidence elsewhere in so slick a show.


Animal Farm is exemplary in its theatricality, a perfect storytelling model for teachers and makers of theatre, a chilling reminder for all of us of the dangers of ignorance and apathy when it comes to governance, and another feather in shake and stir’s green cap. Michael Futcher’s keen eye for detail and his easy-going directing style are in evidence in every aspect of the show. Don’t be the one who misses it this time around.


The Brisbane season (until May 25th) kicks off the Queensland leg of a national tour so if you’re located outside of the city (teachers and community theatre peeps I’m looking at YOU), and you see this one coming soon to a theatre near you, GO. I may even go again… IN KAWANA. SEE YOU THERE SUNSHINE COAST!


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