Samuel Beckett Theatre
“If you’ve come here clutching a copy of George Orwell’s Animal Farm you’ll be disappointed,” Lorcán Strain warns at the opening of Louise White’s Animals. “We are taking a more Brechtian approach.” The actors proceed to introduce themselves and the characters they will be playing. Although there are costumes – playful riffs on animal features by Saileóg O’Halloran – no one expects you to believe that the actors are beasts. Yet somehow – despite the direct address, the old-school overhead projections and the barely-there scaffolding set by Pai Rathaya – White casts a spell that lets you “hold belief and disbelief at the same time” in this inventive stage world.
The story is the same as Orwell’s: the animals overthrow the human system in the name of equality; as their own system evolves, a new hierarchy reimposes itself. The exploitation of power, Orwell illustrates, appears to be inevitable. There will always be some pig-like Napoleon (Dimitry Vinokurov) convinced of his or her superiority; there will always be sheep (played with sardonic musical wit by Elis Czerniak and Dylan Lynch) happy to follow along. White is offering it as a “lens to look at capitalism”, but the real power of the story is the way it seems to transcend time, to offer resonance beyond any particular historic moment.
The performance itself is brash and chaotic. Gemma O’Kane revels in the opportunity for physical rowdiness offered by her array of male characters. Ashley Xie lays a perfect egg. Gabriel Adewusi claims a heroic death scene, with Strain staking his own claim on the tragedy. Lucy Cray-Miller slips between roles as the pampered pony Molly and Napoleon’s mouthpiece Squealer.
Clarity is occasionally sacrificed for high-octane energy, which Czerniak’s original score both tempers and heightens at key moments in the performance. This is broad-stroke socialism, a troubling of rather than an answer to contemporary woes, but it is also great fun.
“You don’t need to use words like epic” to describe what you have just seen, Strain says, tongue firmly in cheek in the final moments, as the chaos stills and Napoleon silently fails on the floor behind him. You don’t need to, of course, but you can.