Animal Farm, George Orwell’s allegorical fairy tale, is being adapted into a musical by Olivier award-winning playwright James Graham. George Orwell is pictured above
Animal Farm, George Orwell’s allegorical fairy tale, is being adapted into a musical by Olivier award-winning playwright James Graham.
The music will come from Alan Menken, the eight-time Oscar-winning composer behind Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Sister Act and many others, working with his frequent collaborator, lyricist Glenn Slater.
Graham, whose play Quiz, about Charles Ingram, the ‘coughing major’ accused of cheating on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? became a cracking ITV mini-series shown during the first lockdown, told me that his ‘spider senses started tingling’ the moment producer Adam Spiegel suggested the idea.
Graham said the creative team is aiming for ‘an enjoyable, entertaining, theatrical night out’ but that they wouldn’t ‘shy away from what’s really an unnerving and dark’ fable about barnyard animals who overthrow their drunken farmer, starting a revolution.
One of their seven commandments famously declared that: ‘All animals are equal — but some animals are more equal than others.’ In particular, the pigs, led by the tyrannical Napoleon.
‘It’s the oldest cliche in the world,’ Graham told me this week. ‘Everyone always thinks that Orwell is more relevant and more resonant now than ever before.
‘But I do think, with what’s been happening in America, and also here, we’ve moved into an age of populism, and the politics of the extreme — on the left and the right.’
In such times, he said, you have to be completely loyal to your tribe, otherwise ‘you’re cancelled and destroyed’.
One of their seven commandments famously declared that: ‘All animals are equal — but some animals are more equal than others.’ In particular, the pigs, led by the tyrannical Napoleon. A film version is seen above
The show will have a workshop in the spring and then Spiegel will decide when to bring the fully developed piece into the West End.
The producer insisted that there won’t be ‘any puppets!’ (in fact, he bellowed that declaration down the phone line to me).
I questioned Graham about how the animals will be presented — with masks, as in Peter Hall’s 1980s production at the National Theatre or with actors on all fours, as in Cats? He laughed, and responded; ‘The absolute joy for me is that … I’ve got no idea!’
He said it would be up to a director, when one is appointed (and Spiegel said there had been no move on that front yet) ‘to decide how to approach such matters’.
My hunch is that a female director, from either side of the Atlantic, will take charge of the political menagerie.
However, Graham did say that he has been exploring how ‘the animals walk, their voice, and their own politics’.
He said it’s important to ‘make vivid and distinct the very different tribes, whether it’s the sheep following along, or the pigs …’
He mentioned discussions with Menken and Slater about matters porcine. ‘Like, how do pigs sing? These are early stage conversations.’
Graham has another Orwell project, too, though it’s on the backburner — a new, cinema version of 1984, to be directed by Paul Greengrass. Its time will soon come.
Donmar gets new boss
The newly appointed chair of the Donmar Warehouse’s board has big plans for the little theatre with a reputation for punching way above its weight.
Adam Kenwright said digitalisation of work, and more outreach, are the keys to attracting younger and more diverse audiences
Adam Kenwright said digitalisation of work, and more outreach, are the keys to attracting younger and more diverse audiences — and talent (both on- and backstage) to the influential London venue.
The dynamic 48-year-old producer, who recently stepped down as a top executive at the Ambassador Theatre Group, praised the Donmar’s leadership under artistic chief Michael Longhurst and executive director Henny Finch.
And he revealed that Blindness, Simon Stephens’ innovative, immersive adaptation of Jose Saramago’s dystopian novel, narrated by the recorded voice of Juliet Stevenson, which enticed folks into the theatre in the summer, will transfer to off-Broadway’s The Daryl Roth Theatre next year.
Longhurst, latest in a long line of visionaries at the Donmar (after Sam Mendes, Michael Grandage and Josie Rourke) has already told Kenwright and his impressive new trustees, including Tessa Ross, June Sarpong, Sylvie Bressler, Tiina Lee, Gerard Lemos and Antonia Romeo, of his upcoming season.
But it can’t be staged until the theatre’s allowed to reopen. ‘We have 251 seats,’ Kenwright said. ‘We can’t do it with socially distanced performances.’
He added that the trustees are there to ensure that Longhurst has enough money ‘to commission new plays, and take risks’. And though he and his colleagues want more inclusion, ‘we don’t want to condescend to be diverse’.