JP NATHRASS

Taking your seat on the stage of the Breytenbach Theatre, one immediately becomes part of the performance. George Orwell’s Animal Farm is experienced from the start of the revolution to the decay of the society the animals have built for themselves. The original text by Orwell has been adapted to suit a different context, revamping the old classic for a contemporary South African audience. The characters are strikingly similar, both in nature and voice, to prominent South African politicians and struggle heroes. Kenneth Miambo, who plays Major the pig, tells the rest of the animals about his dream of a revolution while managing to mimic Nelson Mandela’s voice perfectly. The characters Napoleon (Thabiso Malebye), Snowball (Thato James Thobejane) and Squealer (Richard Ntsie) further help to reinforce this metaphor of South African politics with their resemblance in character to current and past ANC and ANC Youth League leaders. The narrators, Pieter Jonker and Katlego Chale, provide the audience with a well-articulated tour of the intermittent text not provided by the characters. This makes the production an easy performance to follow for first time Animal Farm viewers. Animal Farm makes use of a strong narrative imbued with symbolism rather than visual effects and music to bring across the social message of the play. Characters’ costumes are simple wire-made masks that allow the audience to see the human face underneath. This makes the main theme of the play more prominent: humans are no different to animals, especially when society begins to crumble around us. The characters also make use of crutches and wire hooves to mimic the movement of farm animals. While the dogs (which only feature later in the play) wear military gas masks that resemble the faces of actual dogs, they also signal the violent events that come to pass after the eviction of Snowball. The decor on stage is minimalistic: a roll of brown paper hanging from the ceiling; a collage of newspaper articles about South African politicians covers the centre stage. The use of shadows behind the brown paper and a roaming spotlight that periodically highlights characters of importance captures the audience’s attention and adds to the dramatic structure of events. The use of well-known “struggle songs” and chants that have been prominent in South African politics, such as “Umshini Wami” and “Kill the farmer, kill the boer”, haunts the audience with the passion with which they are sung by the cast. This brings home the reality of politics in our country while adding to the drama of the plot. Adversely, the narrators’ voices are often drowned out by singing and the audience misses out on key plot moments. On the whole, the play gives the audience something to think about, but not in a forceful or unpleasant manner. The director, Janine Lewis, succeeds in applying the universal social issues in the play to the confines of South African circumstances while also making it rather enjoyable. Photo: Chris Taute

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