Brighton Fringe 2015
Using physical theatre, minimal props, clever staging and some interesting light and sound arrangements, Windmill Young Actors really bring George Orwell’s famous novel to life. Strong and mature performances by a team of young actors should be celebrated, and the result is a very powerful performance.
The programme states that the show uses the stage adaptation by Peter Hall, although it also confusingly states that it was created by the company. The cast consists of seven girls who each take on multiple characters, including both named characters and ensemble parts. The pace of the show is fast and the cast move from one character/ensemble to another swiftly and with confidence, meaning that the changes are clear and no boundaries are blurred. Assisted by a narrator, the cast use their physicality and obvious foibles (e.g. snorting for pigs, clucking for hens) to convey the story clearly and with both humour and raw emotion.
An eclectic mix of music is used throughout the performance, ranging from the Beastie Boys to classical Latin guitar pieces. The lighting is also varied, ranging from a full wash to an atmospheric hard white spotlight during speeches. Props are kept to a minimum, with the cast using wooden poles to create additions to both sound and staging arrangements. The cast are all dressed in similar light-coloured clothes, and as always with generic outfits, a few additional accessories work well in changing the status of characters.
All seven cast members produce very mature performances. The plot is driven forward by the high-energy dynamics and the speed of changes, meaning that the audience doesn’t get a chance to get become restless or distracted. Some of the choices in direction seem a little unnecessary- for example one of the poles was dropped during a scene in which they were being passed between cast members. This set-piece didn’t particularly add anything to the show, and was perhaps only inviting such an incident. That said, the cast pushed on and didn’t let it affect them. The full cast deserve credit for the way the more dramatic ensemble scenes were executed, and special mentions go to Cerys Salkeld-Green and Polly Simpson for their portrayals of Napoleon and Squealer respectively.
The sound seemed to suffer from a few technical hitches – one minute the music was too loud, the next it was too quiet. As well as this, some of songs didn’t fit well with the performance. At times the music seemed to be working against the cast, not least when they were chanting “food, food, where’s my food” against the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right to Party”. A piece of Latin guitar music seemed to have been chosen solely for its mentioning of Che Guevara, and at one point sounded like it was coming from outside of the venue.
Lighting was used to wonderful effect during key speeches, and was in key in creating the tense atmosphere in the latter part of the play.
I was thoroughly engrossed in this performance, the only distraction being that the technical hitches and choice of music sometimes detracted from the wonderful performances on stage. For me, the beauty was in the simple staging and the storytelling skills of the performers, and some of the sound and lighting choices added elements that I felt detracted from the atmosphere created on stage.
This is a performance that the cast can be very proud of. With a little finessing of the sound, and some tightening up of ensemble voices, this show could be taken to the next level.