George Orwell's self-described fairy story is rather an extended allegory dressed as a cautionary tale for the phoenix-like dictators who rise from the revolutionary ashes of subjugation to become clones of the tyrants they have fought against. Peter Hall's adaptation of the 1945 novel, with lyrics by Adrian Mitchell and music by Richard Peaslee, was presented in Orwell's seminal year, 1984, at the Royal Shakespeare Company at the National Theatre in London. This allegory about the abuse of power is still relevant in a world that doesn't seem to learn from its mistakes.
The animals on Mr. Jones' (David T. Edwards) farm have a hard life under their negligent owner; feed is scarce, sometimes even forgotten; labor is hard, and loving kindness is never a factor in the relationship between the alcoholic farmer and his beasts. Their poor treatment has brought about a shared bond of brotherhood between the different species, which leads, with very little stimulation, to a shared desire for revenge on their master. Led by the pigs, who consider themselves superior, a revolution is born, quickly followed by an ideology, and Mr. Jones is driven out.
Like all ideologies, it's better in the planning than in the execution, because, as Orwell points out, "All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others." Once Old Major, a.k.a. Lenin (Ray Paolantonio), is out of the picture, the new lead pig, Snowball, a.k.a. Trotsky (John Yelvington), who has too many good ideas, is ousted by Napoleon, a.k.a. Stalin. You don't need to know the language; the fable, maybe too obviously, depicts the corruption brought about by power and severely flawed human, i.e. animal, nature.
Director Edgar Landa creatively equips his actors with short arm crutches that act as front legs, plus a splendid set of full head masks (designed by mask artist Deborah Bird). Despite the intimacy of the stage (fine design by Edwards), one quickly accepts that these are animals, not actors in sheep's clothing, and even feels enormous empathy for these unprivileged creatures. And their poor backs! These young actors encourage older bones to ache, and may end up enriching the coffers of Beverly Hills chiropractors if the play extends for a long run.
Everyone is superb, from the posturing Napoleon (Michael Nehring) to an excellent Squealer (Marie Bain), a cool Cat (Julie Gawkowski), a gallant Boxer (Matthew McCray), and a sweet-natured Mollie (Helen Yeoman), not forgetting the feisty little Narrator (Michelle Ingkavet), who holds her own with only two feet.
Music and lyrics are simple, sometimes funny, a tad repetitive, but well performed. One outstanding feature: Even with huge masks muffling heads, not a word of the dialogue is lost to bad-actor mumbling. It can be done.