A masterful story teller – Guy Masterson’s Animal Farm at Adelaide Fringe

Guy Masterson’s genius lies in his ability to simplify theatre. To make it accessible and enjoyable.

Guy Masterson in Animal Farm. Photo by Bob Paisley.
Guy Masterson in Animal Farm. Photo by Bob Paisley.

Who could imagine Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood as a solo show before Masterson? So after doing the impossible once, he opted to try again with George Orwell’s Animal Farm. He achieved his goal.

The book, originally titled Animal Farm – A Fairy Story, was a savage attack on Joseph Stalin and his control of communism. It was such an effective allegorical tale set against the excesses of The Soviet Union, the C.I.A. paid for the film version in 1954, with a few of their own modifications to ensure a politically correct version was released to the public. That’s become the version the public has come to know, but Orwell was a better writer than that and Masterson brings the tale back to it’s original Orwellian truth. Animal Farm is a full frontal attack on the noxious art of political betrayal.

With the Soviet Union long gone a post-Cold War generation are able to see this production with fresh eyes and a more honest approach. The notions of Masterson’s Animal Farm are easily related through our own time and place of Keynesian economics having been usurped with the mantras of Economic Rationalism.

Masterson’s set couldn’t be more simple – a bale of hay centre stage. His costume is just as simple – a pair of blue overalls (soaked in sweat by the end of the performance). The lighting and sound effects are also simple. But what isn’t simple is Masterson’s interpretation. It’s engaging and dynamic for the full 95 minutes he’s on stage. He brings out the humour of the piece and introduces minor updates to add to the relevance for a contemporary audience.

Masterson has a well-deserved history in Adelaide and his shows generally sell out. This was no exception. He has a tendency to personalise his shows, to draw an audience in with him, as if they’re somehow in on the “joke”. It’s hard to imagine someone else being so effective in the same role. He is, in effect, a master storyteller and that’s what makes his solo performances so endearing and why Adelaide audiences keep coming back for more.

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