Orwell that ends well: Animal Farm hits QPAC in almost sold-out tour

Politicians past and present will be fair game when theatre company shake & stir brings its award-winning production of George Orwell’s cautionary political satire Animal Farm to QPAC.

Jun 04, 2021, updated Jun 04, 2021
Steven Rooke as Napoleon in shake & stir's Animal Farm (Image: Supplied)

Steven Rooke as Napoleon in shake & stir's Animal Farm (Image: Supplied)

The production has just moved from touring the east coast of New South Wales and lands in Toowoomba tonight before playing three weeks at QPAC in a very-nearly sold out tour.

Animal Farm has been moulding the minds of students around the country and with less than 80 tickets left for their three week run at QPAC, is set to mould the minds of a few adults too.

George Orwell, best known for dystopian science fiction novel Nineteen-Eighty Four, wrote Animal Farm in 1945 as an allegory against the perils of ideology.

The production sees the corruptibility of power play out across a farm full of pigs, who rebel against their human farmer and find themselves in the dictatorial grip of Napoleon, a Berkshire boar based off Joseph Stalin.

Steven Rooke first read the novel when he was in school, so it seems fitting he is now touring the show around Australian high schools playing Napoleon who he (very) loosely based off Boris Johnson.

He told InQueensland that the most challenging thing about the production was not crawling around on two knuckles for 90 minutes but the cautionary relevance of the story 70 years after its publication.

“I was surprised at how familiar it felt, because it had been 20 years since I’ve looked at it. I was surprised at how current it seems when written about a time that seems like a completely different world but really nothing has changed,” said Rooke.

“Politicians are still behaving in the same way, people in power are still taking all of the same liberties. We’d like to pretend that the world is moving forward but isn’t really.”

Animal Farm is Rooke’s main stage debut with shake & stir theatre co and he said the production has been physically very demanding.

Animal Farm by Shake and Stir (Image: Supplied)

“I wasn’t 100 per cent sure what I was getting myself into I don’t think,” he said.

Animal Farm is known as the most physical of the productions that shake & stir put on. There are a couple of bruises in the show, you carry a certain amount of soreness because you are crawling around using two knuckles as trotters for 90 minutes.

“But it’s so much fun to be able to do that because once the audience suspends their sense of disbelief there’s nothing that you can do that’s too over the top.

“You’re not bound by the constrictions of realism. You can really go for it and that includes vocally, physically and emotionally. You can really stretch the boundaries of what would be normally acceptable on stage,” said Rooke.

shake & stir theatre co is one of Brisbane’s success stories, combining a load of hugely successful award-winning productions such as Fantastic Mr Fox, Dracula, and 1984 with an educational programme which sees them entertaining up to 150,000 primary and high school students per year.

Rooke said that productions such as Animal Farm which are challenging political satires that hold a mirror up to modern life, performing for students makes it all the more worthwhile.

“I think shake & stir is definitely contributing to the conversation and encouraging younger minds to ask the questions that need to be asked,” said Rooke.

“The best way to get an important message across is in the form of a story. You just hope that these productions lead to ongoing conversations that have people talking, not just what they thought about the play but how it relates to their life and the world and the country and the times that we live in.

“shake & stir brings these stories to the forefront of people’s minds and don’t forget about these wonderful storytellers with these wonderful messages. It’s a privilege to be able to bring it to life.”

Animal Farm opens in Toowoomba at the Empire Theatre tonight and begins in Brisbane at QPAC on 7 to 26 June. For more information, visit shake & stir’s website

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