Theatre review: Animal Farm, Theatre Royal Bathgate

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WHO is he, this lone figure who comes on stage to tell the story, in Guy Masterson’s Animal Farm?

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He’s not George Orwell: can’t be, since he layers his account of Orwell’s famous narrative with references – both verbal and aural – to much more recent political events, including the current government’s Orwellian claim that “we’re all in this together”.

Nor is he any of the animals he so poignantly conjures up in telling the tale. He evokes them all with a tremendous, vivid physical energy, from Clover the carthorse to Napoleon, the pig turned despot. But the narrative voice lies elsewhere, in this stocky figure in blue dungarees who stands, leaps and gallops before us under ever-shifting light. So in the end, we have to conclude that this narrator is Masterson himself, performer and adapter, a contemporary voice looking back on a story written 70 years ago, and reflecting in sorrow and anger on its mighty allegory of a people’s revolution betrayed.

Masterson’s loving two-hour version of the tale suffers a little from its failure fully to declare this relationship between writer/performer and audience: it’s one of the cardinal rules of solo drama that the audience should know exactly who is talking to them, and why.

In every other way, though, it’s a brave and memorable account of Orwell’s heartbreaking tale. Anyone aware of the history of the Soviet Union must recognise the terrible accuracy of Orwell’s vision of a potential agricultural paradise turned to a nightmare of want, drudgery, and cruel official lies; and of how the same techniques of distortion and spin live on in politics today.