Animal Farm: Single-handedly brilliant

Animal Farm was originally written by George Orwell. | Photo: Flicker.com
Animal Farm was originally written by George Orwell.

Lincoln theatre-goers had a treat last week, as the Guy Masterson-adapted version of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” took to the LPAC’s stage as part of singles season.

Usually I find one-man plays hard to warm to, as they don’t seem particularly believable. The actor should make each character, through gesticulations and vocal modulation, easy to identify. Not only did actor Gary Shelford do this competently, he mastered it and had the audience in absolute awe.

Using nothing but sound effects and a wooden box, Shelford commanded the stage, narrated the play and enacted each character with utter brilliance and clarity for 110 minutes, leaving nothing to be desired.

The satirical novella, Orwell’s allegorical take on the Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin, was first written in 1943 but not published until 1945 after being rejected by four publishers, including Faber & Faber, then directed by T.S Eliot.

Tackling such a well-known piece of literature naturally results in immense pressure and high expectations for the theatre group to live up to. Multiply that with having no other actors to share the stage with and it’s moments like these when the real talent surfaces.

The story is set at Manor Farm, which is run by Mr Jones until the animals revolt and drive out the humans, under the guidance of the pigs. The farm is subsequently renamed “Animal Farm” and becomes ruled by the doctrine of “animalism”, which states most importantly that “all animals are equal”.

Shelford opens the show by conversing with the audience before breaking out into narration and beginning the tale. One by one, he introduces the characters, who become instantly recognisable through differentiated movements and accents.

It is his exact timing and voice-control that is incredibly astonishing. At the point in the play where the windmill (that had required arduous work from the animals to be built) falls down and the animals break out into panic, Shelford keeps the pace impeccably by rapidly oscillating between characters, both physically and verbally, maintaining every individual quality. His performance left me completely spellbound.

Looking around the audience, there were many families that came to watch the play and I am quite sure neither parent nor child will have gone home disappointed. Hyperbolic facial expressions and funny accents kept the children giggling throughout, whilst sarcastic remarks and references to modern politicians (Blair, Thatcher, Blunkett, etc.), kept the knowledgable satisfied too.

Never was there an instant when Shelford’s momentum faulted. The use of sound effects and lighting proved effective, particularly in times of poignancy, such when the corruption of Napoleon and the pigs’ leadership surfaces, a Snowball in spotlight reveals the altered commandments that suit the pigs’ greed and utters with conviction the famous line: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

Guy Masterson returns to Lincoln with another one-man adaption of a classic, Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milk Wood”, on November 28. If “Animal Farm” is anything to go by, I’d absolutely recommend it as a must see.

Tickets are £10 (£7 concessions) and can be purchased by visiting www.lpac.co.uk or by calling 0844 888 4414.

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