The Antigone Collective: Animal Farm

The Antigone Collective is a student led community theatre project whose ethos is to engage with dramatic portrayals of human rights. What could be more suitable for their debut than an adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The company’s first performance opened last night at the relatively undiscovered Orillo studios just off Heslington Road (who’d have thought Orwell would come so close to Efe’s?) With their bold production of a poignant political allegory, Antigone Collective has left their audience eager for the next instalment…

Directors Marta Donati and Minna Jeffery made the cosy Orillo space into their creative playground; they played with a large graphic backdrop, stairs with an ominous balcony level and even the studio’s bar in multiple scenes. The sheer ambition of the set unfortunately tripped the production up towards the second act with a technical difficulty that temporarily stalled the projections. Nevertheless, it is a commendation to the cast and the technical team that this absence was little felt. The projections onto a white sheet backdrop were a particular highlight. Beautiful, often visceral, graphics illuminated the production’s tense atmosphere. In fact, a standout feature of this company’s promising debut was their decision to embrace such a bold interaction with multimedia. The graphics were so captivating that they often filled up the space like a commanding character.

The Animal Farm adaptation is a play full of scene-stealing characters. Ted Sager, in the role of Boxer, showed a command of gruelling physicality, which was both convincing and, at times, downright exhausting to watch. Ricky Jones squirmed around the space as a thoroughly neurotic and volatile Napoleon. His  expressive walk questionably tread (pun intended) the line between animalistic creep and plain pantomime villain. However, it did provide the perfect contrast to Napoleon’s transformed pseudo-human swagger, thus making the change all the more poignant. Marcus Crabb, Squealer, and Ellie Bridger, Snowball, confidently executed Orwell’s two sides of political rhetoric. Crabb was patronising, threatening, and condescending enough to provoke contempt from the audience, as well as providing some comic relief. This, juxtaposed with Bridger’s self-deprecating yet inspiring Snowball created a tension that infused the entire performance.

A notable aspect of this production was the approach to its seminal source text. Sabine Waasdorp narrated whilst reading a copy of Animal Farm. This physical engagement with the novel revealed the company’s respect for Orwell’s commendable engagement with human rights. Having Waasdorp narrate the performance with Orwell in hand truly replicated a naïve reader encountering the injustices of the narrative and the potential for the arts to spread awareness; this therefore helped to underline the Antigone Collective’s ethos. In awareness of their company’s engagement with human rights, Donati and Jeffery made artful steps of using the opening and closing scenes to draw the audience in. As much as we are captivated listeners to Old Major’s hopeful revolting speech, we too become the perverse and passive voyeurs to Napoleon’s final speech of exploitation. The double casting of Jones in both these roles emphasised the play’s cyclical portrayal of power’s ability to corrupt. This commitment to explore an unsettlingly relevant theme in theatre interweaved with their own individuality and creativity makes The Antigone Collective a promising project. Admitting a few technical and dramatic hiccups, their debut flaunted a provocative and artistically exciting brand of theatre I look forward to returning to in the future.

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