Saturday 15 July 2023

Animal Farm review

First published in 1945, it would be hard to imagine how a production of George Orwell's classic Animal Farm could offer something new to audiences. But theatre company Bloomshed have proven they are more than up to the challenge, imbuing the narrative with their dramatic flair and sharp satire to present a highly memorable experience in successfully exploring dark issues with a comedic tone.

The ensemble (Elizabeth Breenan, James Malcher, Anna Louey, Eden Goodall, Lauren Swain, Laura Aldous, Syd Brisbane and Sam Nix) do a brilliant job with the anthropomorphism of their assigned animals, be it Malcher's blindly loyal bleating sheep, Goodall's nervous chicken or Louey and Brisbane's respective vain and dim-witted horses.

It is disappointing to say this, but Elizabeth Brennan has got to be one of the most underused performers in Melbourne. She is captivating, engaging and absolutely gives herself over to her roles, and she is no less committed in Animal Farm with her outstanding portrayal of the fierce leader Napoleon the pig. It is criminal that she is not gracing more stages more often.

What makes Bloomshed stand out from other theatre makers is their wholly collaborative approach where all creatives are involved in the process and it is reflected in their productions. Given the scale and often frantic nature of their work, unless everyone is sharing the same vision, there is a huge chance of the entire work derailing. With no listed director, one can assume there has been input from everyone in the lead up to opening night. It's a practice that works for them, having won the Green Room Award for direction in their production of Paradise Lost last year.

Also a Green Room Award winner for Paradise Lost, John Collopy dazzles with an effective lighting design that heightens the drama and tension of life at the farm. Like the environment at the farm, Justin Gardam's sound design is a cacophony of sounds that at times disorient and others hypnotise us with beats and music that brings the audience into the farm, witnessing firsthand the horrors taking place. Nathan Burmeister (again, a Green Room Award winner for Paradise Lost) and Samantha Hastings' set and costumes add to the exaggerated environment while acknowledging Russia’s Bolshevik revolution as the impetus for the play.

The show loses some steam in its final act with a senate inquiry taking place over the events of Animal Farm, but Bloomshed still provides a cutting look at society, socialism and the sinister side to true freedom and equality. For a company that began in a backyard shed, Bloomshed have grown into a force to be reckoned with, as they constantly adjust our expectations on how exciting and invigorating theatre can be.


Venue: Northcote Town Hall Arts Centre, 189 High St, Northcote
Season: Until 23 July | Wed - Sat 7:30pm, Sun 5:00pm
Duration: 70 minutes
$38 Full | $33 Concession
Bookings: Darebin Arts

Image Credit: Sarah Walker

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