What happens when a farm is left in the hands of pigs? This banyard tale serves up political satire in spades, with comedy and pop culture references thrown in for good measure.
The animals are staging a coup – and the lazy, alcoholic farmer Jones and his men are thrown out of Manor Farm. The lights change, setting the scene for the pigs to rally the rest of the barnyard animals to create a new life for themselves. But the run towards freedom isn’t as it seems…
Wild Rice brings back Animal Farm
Animal Farm is a theatre production staged by Wild Rice, one of the homegrown companies leading the industry. This is the first time Wild Rice has staged this play in over a decade! Based on George Orwell’s 1945 novel of the same name, this political satire is brought to life through a combination of physical theatre, live and original music, and innovative design.
With the constant cries of “comrades!”, it’s quite easy to make out the type of political ideology the fable is satirising, even if you haven’t read the book. For the uninitiated: the novel critiques Soviet totalitarianism, through a story of barnyard animals overthrowing their human master – a choice that gradually leaves them under the hands (or trotters) of an oppressive pig (literally).
It’s been over a decade since Wild Rice’s last staging of Animal Farm, a show that has played to audiences in New Zealand (2004), Hong Kong (2010) and Australia (2011), flying Singapore’s flag in the global performing arts scene. Theatre buffs, add this year’s 20th anniversary production to your must-watch list. Expect a gripping (and at times humorous) stage play that cleverly condenses the over 100 page-long novel into a less than two hour show.
No frills, just perfect music and incredible acting
There’s no puppetry or animal prosthetics involved, just actors in simple garb bringing the tale to life. Arguably, the omission of fantastical costumes makes the dialogue and acting more impactful. They wowed with their skills at animal mimicry through detailed movements and regularly timed vocalisations.
To fans of the previous veteran cast (which included names like Tan Kheng Hua): if you’re on the fence about the new cast, worry not ‘cos the ensemble of new faces delivered a fab performance. Front row seats gave an impressive look at the actors’ level of immersion and emotion in the story – this is one show you’ll be talking about long after it ends.
This production made clever use of visual statements to make a point. Here’s an example: Napoleon the pig (played by Vester Ng) was a representation of a certain communist dictator (ahem, Stalin), who dictated the commandments that the animals had to live by. One of which was that animals should reject associating with humans and their attire. And so the animals started off with bare-bones dressing.
But as the show went on, Napoleon started putting on more pieces of apparel – a casual shirt here, a tie there, and eventually donned a full suit when his transformation into a dictator was complete. This was perfectly timed to when he allied with the humans to become a tyrant himself, providing a striking visual cue of his change. Scenes like this also raise questions around politics and morality, though that’s a rabbit hole I won’t get into.
Aside from the actors, the sound designer (Riduan Zalani) deserves applause (which he did receive at curtain call) for timing his beats precisely to each move in a fight scene, creating a tune while rolling around a steel drum, and even live beatboxing at one point. Colour me impressed.
Comical scenes and… K-pop hits?
The show is a right laugh at times, providing comic relief just before it gets too heavy. Even the antagonist will make you chuckle, with a brilliantly-timed reference to our very own PM Lee (though I won’t spoil the moment for you!).
Plus, K-pop fans will be pleasantly surprised by the animals’ BTS dance number. Personally, I wasn’t a massive fan of this interlude. While it was a banger, I didn’t think it suited the mood and the flow of the play well. Though, I guess it’s a necessary addition to draw in a certain crowd – and I suppose we needed a little something to break up all that political satire.
The allegory of humans behaving like animals is hilarious yet poignant. Are all animals equal or are some animals more equal than others? Watch the show and decide for yourself.
Animal Farm, Wild Rice @ Funan, now till 10 Sep, tickets from $30 – $80, Level 4, 107 North Bridge Road Singapore 179105