The Orwell Farm
The Orwell Farm
Despite the ampleness and versatility of body of work by George Orwell (1903–1950) – a novelist, essayist, intellectual, a homeless man of his own volition, a Spanish civil warfighter, and herald of rights of the exploited – only two of his masterpieces brought him recognition, fame and eventually money – the allegorical novella Animal Farm subtitled as “a fairy story”, and the dystopian novel 1984 (Nineteen-Eighty-Four). As a keen observer of society and a visionary in his own right, he clearly opposed totalitarianism and all kinds of anomalies within a democracy. He anticipated and warned against the danger and global spread of the bureaucratic system and total bureaucratization that controls life and devours human beings.
The Orwell Farm, a drama theatre novelty, draws its inspiration and motifs from both mentioned works, as well as from four of Orwell’s essays that were published in the Slovene language under the title Fascism and Democracy (Fašizem in demokracija), and other essays that were issued in a book titled Freedom or Slavery? Inside the Whale and Other Essays (Svoboda ali suženjstvo? V kitovem trebuhu in drugi eseji). We look at the world through the eyes of the pig elite. Once upon a time, the pigs were “equal among equals” but were corrupted by power and authority. In turn, they have gained control over all animals. They now exploit and abuse their superior position to stay in power. To become invincible and de facto unstoppable, they shall resort to all means possible – manipulation, discrediting the threat and the enemy, fake news, control, and revision of history.
The action is set in an art gallery in the Museum of the Resistance. It takes place on two levels, celebrating a national holiday at a banquet. The elite has usurped the event to their amusement and to mock the exploited people by putting on a show, playing out different versions of their own (vain)glorious history. The characters jump in and out of roles of winners and the defeated, embodying great narratives in their own history in the roles of various animals. Historical battles thus become artistic action, artefacts, exhibition objects, and performances that glorify the role of the elite. Art becomes a herald of state propaganda. The scenes from heroic battles and victories are, of course, staged and altered as they see fit; no one really cares for the objective truth anymore.
All high-ranking representatives of the state are attending the banquet on Statehood Day. The sole intention of the national jubilee is reconciliation, which can only be achieved upon the revision of history. In this case, reconciliation is considered as recognition of president Napoleon and all his credits for the history of the state. While the entire elite has long since bowed to him, and they continue to follow his reign in fear of losing their positions, maybe even their own lives, the only nuisance of the party is its honorary guest, the pig Snowball who does not always dance to Napoleon’s tune. To rewrite history successfully, Snowball is required to distance herself from her own words and deeds and, above all, to renounce her own memory.
Needless to say, in his bloody rise to power, Napoleon has not been keen on dialogue – in fact, he either subdues or eliminates all his opponents. Whoever is not with him is against him, and single-mindedness is a trade secret of his success. Like many characters on today’s political stage, Napoleon, too, is a power-drunk dictator, disguised as a populist, who would never admit that the destruction of his opponents would mean the beginning of his own undoing.
Luka Marcen, a promising director of the younger generation, staged the play on the Small Stage. His unique vision of the staging reflects the versatility and genre-b(l)ending character of Orwell’s writings. In turn, the play can be defined as a hybrid series of genre-diverse scenes, vignettes, posters, as well as monuments of the great history of Animal Farm. And yet, in their relentless desire to portray greatness, all these scenes, in fact, bear the poignant essence of truthfulness, exposing countless anomalies and symptoms of the political establishment and its manipulation that maintains the unbearable status quo, imbued with the depravity of pig morality.