George Orwell was definitely not shy about voicing his opinion “…to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.” A democratic socialist and outspoken critic of Joseph Stalin and Stalinism, Orwell found himself writing his savage satire, ANIMAL FARM, in 1943 and 1944 – just when England was allied with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany. When the book was published in 1945, ANIMAL FARM met with a mixed reception. But then, with the advent of the Cold War, his novella grew in popularity with each year. In fact, Time Magazine named ANIMAL FARM one of the 100 best English-language novels written between 1923 and 2005. Orwell’s book has also been included in the Great Books of the Western World.
Is it any wonder that ANIMAL FARM eventually found its way on to the stage, becoming a smash hit in London and Broadway in 1984 while highlighting the creatively artistic use of puppetry? Several musical treatments followed in the ensuing years. Currently, A Noise Within is spotlighting the Peter Hall adaptation, a musical written in the 1980s with lyrics by Adrian Mitchell and music by Richard Peaslee. Regardless of multiple adaptations, the story has almost always remained true to Orwell’s original concept of a biting satire focused on Stalinism – but certainly recognizable in almost all autocratic governments before and since.
The bare bones of the play chart the fall of idealism and the rise of tyranny. A group of animals living on the Manor Farm have been abused and oppressed by their human owner, a tyrannical alcoholic man with little regard for their welfare. Led by idealistic pig Snowball and pragmatic pig Napoleon (resembling Trostsky and Stalin respectively), the animals rise up and overthrow the cruel farmer Mr. Jones and establish a fair and equitable egalitarian society, renaming their state Animal Farm. All seems well until Napoleon (Rafael Goldstein) and his sidekick Squealer (Trisha Miller) find themselves seduced by power. In infinitesimal steps, they begin to chip away at the rights promised by the revolt, gradually assuming more and more control by the artful use of simplistic slogans, the creation of enemies, the extermination of any and all who disagree with them, and the dissemination of fake news. Finally, their initial promise that “all animals are created equal” morphs into “all animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others.” The rise of the pigs is complete.
A Noise Within Artistic Director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott does a superb job of taking humans and animals and eventually grafting them into one. She is ably assisted by a talented ensemble cast who make the tale come alive – a cast adept at acting, dancing, and singing. Performers in the production include Rafael Goldstein, Jeremy Rabb, Stanley Andrew Jackson, Trisha Miller, Deborah Strang, Casandra Marie Murphy, Nicole Javier, Geoff Elliott, Philicia Saunders, Bert Emmett, and Sadale Threatt Jr. In a production such as this, where animals and people are so intertwined, kudos are in order for costume design by Angela Balogh Calin, who also doubles as scenic designer, and Tony Valdes’ wigs and make-up design – without which the necessary illusions would fall firmly flat. The entire production team has done an excellent job to turning this allegorical fantasy into a stage reality. And let’s not forget Rod Bagheri’s music direction, a crucial function in this musical version of the tale, so enhanced by the clever lyrics. This is a production which should please any audience, whether viewers are focused on story, satire, music, history, or just sitting back and being royally entertained.
ANIMAL FARM runs through October 2, 2022, with performance at 8 p.m. on Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. There will be ten student matinees at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday 9/6/22, Wednesday, 9/7/22, Tuesday 9/13/22, Wednesday 9/14/22, Thursday 9/15/22, Tuesday 9/20/22, Wednesday 9/21/22, Thursday 9/22/22, Tuesday 9/27/22, and Wednesday 9/28/22. Interested educators should email ed*******@an**********.org. A Noise Within is located at 3342 East Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91107. Tickets start at $25 (students $18). For information and reservations, call 626-356-3100 or go online.