>ANIMAL FARM by W!ld Rice

>reviewed by jeremy samuel

>date: 6 sep 2003
>time: 8pm
>venue: the jubilee hall, raffles hotel
>rating: ***1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.

>>>>>carry on farming

Everyone knows, of course, that ANIMAL FARM is not just about sheep and cows. Any schoolchild can rattle off the elements of George Orwell's allegory of the Russian revolution - Snowball represents Trotsky, Boxer the working classes and so on. In their version of this text, adapted by Ian Wooldridge, W!ld Rice aims to refashion this classic for a Singaporean context.

At first glance, the production does not appear to have changed much since its run last year. Still in place are the almost naked actors, wrapped only in strips of red and white cloth, the elements of physical theatre, and the excellent live soundscape created by Philip Tan.

Most of the cast from the first outing have returned, although Karen Tan, continuing a tradition she began in 'Autumn Tomyam', takes over the role originated by Tan Kheng Hua. Director Ivan Heng has also presumably been unable to resist the lure of the footlights, and cast himself in the lead role of Napoleon.

>>'This show has legs, four of them'

Rather than the fiery dictator Lim Yu Beng gave us last year, he is colder, a more Machiavellian, ruthless leader. With his Brylcreemed hair and clipped accent, Heng is the very model of a modern Brigadier General, and reminds one irresistibly of - oh, you know - we're not allowed to say his name, but you know the one...

This is, in fact, the play's strong suit, a relative subtlety that sees allusions to local politics rather than the sledgehammer polemic one usually finds in this sort of show. The audience's intelligence is flattered with many a nod and wink, and we are left to work out for ourselves what is being said without its being too explicit.

And a lot is said to give one pause for thought. The parodies of governmental reliance on statistics and media for crowd-control may seem like easy point-scoring, but then no one has really yet been brave enough to link 'TV Mobile' and fascism. In this version of the story, the animals expel the British Farmer Jones only to eventually surrender the farm to the American Farmer Pilkington - an indication, perhaps, that by throwing in our lot with George Dubya we are subjecting ourselves to a new form of the colonialism that we thought was left behind forever after 1965.

It seems almost churlish to point out the flaws in such an intelligent production, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing, and at two hours without an interval, the play could do with a little judicious trimming. Many of the sequences go on just a little too long, leaving the whole feeling bloated, and the extended sequence tacked on to the ending seems unnecessary, especially compared to the simple, elegiac ending that the last run had.

All in all this show has legs, four of them, and one hopes that it will be a while before the franchise buys the farm. Still, and without wishing to be unnecessarily critical, I do feel that the last run of the show was better - tighter, fresher, and more immediate.