"What an amazing storyteller! I have been familiar with the works of George Orwell since my days at school and Animal Farm was always a favourite. The political satire has lost none of its punch or relevance. Listening, and watching, Masterson's one-man retelling was like being introduced to this story for the first time!
On a bare stage with only a bale of hay as setting, the tale comes alive. Each character with its own voice and movement becomes immediately recognizable. We feel for each of the loved characters and cringe as the mirror is put to our humanity. The background sounds and effects add depth, but it is the man himself who commands your attention and works to deliver a standout performance that makes you feel you would be poorer had you missed it." (Adelaide Theatre Guide - Fran Edwards - 25/02/13)
"UK performer Guy Masterson is a staple of the Adelaide Fringe and Animal Farm is a staple of Guy Masterson's solo-performance catalogue - alongside his one-man Under Milk Wood.
Seventeen years ago, Masterson adapted the play - from George Orwell's classic novel; an allegory for the Russian Revolution and the Stalinist Era - and it, like the novel, is still a powerful piece.
Animal Farm tells the tale of the Manor Farm and the ignored and mistreated animals who, after being informed of a dream of revolution by Old Major, are moved to revolt. Over time, under the rule of Napoleon, the Berkshire Boar, the ideals of the revolution come to naught, returning the farm to a state of oppression.
On a stage, bare except for a bale of hay, we are introduced to the "cast" of Animal Farm - all individually portrayed in vocal and physical detail. From the thundering power of Boxer the Clydesdale, to the more genteel Clover and the prancing mare, Molly - she with the 'red ribbons in her mane'. Then there are the ruling pigs: stout, firm and oppressive Napoleon and the sly, manipulative - and aptly named - Squealer. There's also, initially, the fair-handed pig, Snowball, who is ousted and whose memory is corrupted - much like the 'Seven Commandments of Animalism'.
A highlight - one of many - is the loopy portrayal of the sheep. With crossed-eyes, flapping hands and a lolling tongue, Masterson portrays these moronic followers as the namesake for mindless servitude.
Central to the extension of this one-man piece into a theatre-filling experience is the lighting. The stage lights vary from tight spots to full stage, blindingly bright to dark and dim, from hot summer sun to freezing winter depths - and a lighting finale that has to be seen to be believed.
The soundtrack, too, is pivotal - from the moment you enter the theatre to the sounds of Pink Floyd's Animals, to the collective animal sounds that enhance the stable's environs and the none-to-subtle collection of modern political extracts. This soundscape flows from the speakers and washes over the audience - signifying the myriad animals and the atrocities of martial law.
Masterson gives his all - and it shows in the sweat-soaked coveralls he wears - as he moves, seamlessly, from character to character and creates a world populated with politically-motivated, driven and downtrodden animals of all shapes and sizes, great and small. Originally conceived as a two-act play, it has been condensed into 95-minutes - which fly like the old raven, Moses.
Whether you know the novel (or not), are a lover of Russian History or the political sciences (again, or not), or enjoy quality theatre at its best, don't miss Animal Farm!" (Glen Christie - Adelaide Arts Hub - 25/02/13)
"Guy Masterson re-enacts George Orwell's satire on Communism with panache and brings vigour and a distinctive feel to each character. His performance is remarkable in this part narrative, part enactment show and he has a hold on the audience from start to finish.
The set is a bale of hay, but the simplicity juxtaposes the dramatic and violent story that unfolds. Old Major's dream of an animal utopia where all animals are equal and live out the course of their lives as nature intended fuels the rebellion against humans led by the pigs, Snowball, Napoleon and Squealer. Masterson is faithful to the novel and enacts each scene shifting dexterously between characters, adopting their distinct characteristics and mannerisms. For two hours he is a bundle of energy and intrigue playing out the story.
After the successful rebellion against Farmer Jones and the other humans on Manor Farm 'Animalism' is established and the seven doctrines adapted from Old Major's opening speech. All of the animals are happy and work together under the leadership of the pigs. However this Golden Era does not last long when boorish Napoleon overthrows Snowball's rule and the circle of tyranny continues as the pigs increasingly resemble humans.
In true Masterson style his performance and talent fires the audience's imaginations to set the scene and accompany him on a journey to the murky depths of human nature. With a few sound and light effects the mood is conveyed and ambiance established, but all eyes are on Masterson as he shuffles, leaps, squeals and grunts on stage.
Masterson is unafraid to tackle the complex issues of society and politics through his interpretation of classic, well-known pieces of literature. Animal Farm is no exception and has resulted in sell-out shows at this year's Adelaide Fringe Festival." (Prerna Ashok - FringeReview.com Adelaide 24/02/13)
"I'll admit that I was entirely dubious about a one-man show of a story entirely about animals - the logistics just seemed too complicated to be a success. But Guy Masterson's solo take on Orwell's classic Animal Farm quelled those doubts within minutes.
Masterson is an incredibly talented performer. Through the use of clever and simple changes in his body language, such as a closed fist indicating a pig's hoof, he was not only able to suggest successfully to the audience a wide range of different animals present, but also give each of them depth of character. Each pig, while clearly a pig, was also able to be an individual - it was never difficult for the audience to tell characters apart, which, in a one-man show is a total triumph, especially without the assistance of any costuming. Often, Masterson also adopted the role of a narrator, which added a level of humour to the play and allowed him to connect more easily with his audience. The narrator's dialogue often evoked dramatic irony, Masterson sharing something with the audience that the animal characters did not yet understand.
He also manages to connect the ideas and themes of Animal Farm to present day, through brilliant use of sound clips and references from the narrator. These subtle references made the story much more relevant to the audience without having to transplant the entire story to present day.
Animal Farm is simply astonishing and will leave the audience thoughtful, as well as in awe of Masterson-s constant energy and brilliance as a performer. Masterson brings this classic tale back to life and reminds us that, unfortunately, its messages of an overpowering government are possibly even more relevant today." (The Heckler - Adelaide - 25/02/13)
"Guy Masterson! There is a lot in a name. In this 90-minute tour de force he plays every character, all of them materialising within minutes of the opening dialogue. A horse, a pig, a sheep, a bird, a plane, it's actually, there are no planes; but he is superman.
This is no simple re-telling of the Orwell classic tale of despotism. This adaptation is firmly rooted in our time, where a social democracy is hollowed out and corrupted by a secretive authoritarian kleptocratic capitalism that, step by step, distorts and inverts all the principles its contributive believers hold dear.
Masterson commandingly owns the vast stage as he portrays the various characters in all their affecting, endearing complexities; their hopes, desires, despair, empathy, animals all but, as the story goes, all so human. Relishing in his multiple roles, Masterson drew laughs aplenty as ironic humour abounds in this darkest of tales." Final Word: Compelling." (Ian Newton - Ripitup - 25/02/13)
" Masterful Storyteller, Guy Masterson's genius lies in his ability to simplify theatre. To make it accessible and enjoyable.
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." (Mick Searles - AT Aussie Theatre Online - 28/02/13)
From The British Invasion - Kansas City December 2012:
GUY MASTERSON BRINGS ANIMAL FARM TO FORMIDABLE LIFE IN SOLO PERFORMANCE "Guy Masterson, as theatergoers who have attended the annual British Invasion know, is a visceral performer - aggressively physical, facially pliant and vocally versatile as he ranges from falsetto to bass.
He brings all those attributes to George Orwell's Animal Farm, which he has adapted as a two-act solo performance. Working with nothing more than a bale of hay at center stage and exactly two props, Masterson brings Orwell's political allegory to life with formidable performance skills.
Masterson's physical solidity suggests that he could carry a piano on his back without much strain, but he's light on his feet. Grace and delicacy are as important as strength and bulk in this performance.
George Orwell (nee Eric Blair) wrote his novella in the 1940s as an explicit criticism of Soviet communism and dictator Josef Stalin, who had betrayed Marxist ideals with his ruthless police state. The book suggests that any revolution will be corrupted because nobody and resist the intoxicating allure of power and privilege.
The Soviet Union passed into history, of course, but police states still seem to be a thriving industry in some parts of the world. Masterson's performance makes clear that Animal Farm still has plenty of relevance at a time when our political system appears irredeemably dysfunctional and many of our politicians have mastered Orwellian rhetoric.
The narrative depicts an animal rebellion on Manor Farm. The humans are pushed out and the animals take charge of their own affairs. All animals are equal, according to the new principles of Animalism, and any creature that walks on two legs is inherently bad. But the pigs teach themselves to read and become the new ruling class, eventually trading with humans at neighboring farms, rewriting the rebellion's history, imposing rigid rules on the other animals, enforcing politically correct thinking and hoarding the best food for themselves.
Masterson embodies - and clearly delineates - the various characters vividly: Napoleon, the ruling pig; Squealer, his chief propagandist; Boxer, the hard-working (but not very bright) draft horse; Benjamin, a donkey who views the machinations of pigs and humans with equal skepticism, and many others. The social tapestry is rich as Masterson portrays horses, cows, attack dogs, sheep, goats and the occasional human.
It's been a long time since I read Animal Farm but as near as I can tell virtually every word comes from Orwell's book, although Masterson allows himself the occasional ad lib. (At point he slips in a reference to the 'fiscal cliff'.)
Masterson takes his audience on a real emotional and intellectual journey. The show is by turns inspiring, exciting, frightening, mournful and poignant. But it also shows us that Animal Farm is an allegory worth revisiting and leaves us with couple of inevitable questions: Does human nature really change? At the end of the day, aren't we animals too?
The uncredited sound and lighting effects are vital to the success of the performance. The director of record is Tony Boncza. Masterson has performed Animal Farm for some 17 years, and he claims that this marks his retirement of the piece. He's said that before, so we'll see. At his curtain call Saturday night he comically suggested that perhaps there's a 'young American actor willing to take this on'. I could certainly picture other performers doing this piece. But few could play it with the explosive vitality Masterson brings to the stage." (Robert Trussell - Kansas Citry Star - 15/12/12)
FROM EDINBURGH 2010:
"Animal Farm, a novel written by George Orwell and first published in 1945, reflects the period of Russian history from the fall of the monarchy, through the rise of communism to the Stalin era. However, the book is also an allegory for the cyclical nature of politics and the damaging effects of bad leadership and ignorance of the masses. The latter meaning of the book is where Guy Masterson's production takes off; it is packed with contemporary references to British politics and makes links to dictators and regimes throughout history, while still calling back to communist Russia. The production not only stays true to Orwell's original masterpiece but genuinely (and sympathetically) adds to it allowing its relevance to blossom.
This was a one-off performance requested by Assembly to celebrate their 30th Anniversary, in itself an indication of the high regard in which Masterson is held. There was an audience of two- or three hundred and the excitement was tangible: the last ever (ever, ever) performance of this famous rendition of Animal Farm. The show has a long history, being premiered at the Traverse theatre in 1995 and subsequently toured all over the world. Yet, in principle, it seems to have changed very little in that time; the stage is empty bar three hay bails in the centre and the performance takes the form of Mastserson hosting and narrating, acting and enacting, the entire book over two hours. Sounds like a recipe for disaster - one man, one book, two hours. However, as has been proven time and time again, this show is infinitely entertaining, utterly captivating and, in its own way, very poignant.
Masterson introduces the main characters at the beginning: Boxer, the hard-working, loyal horse who ultimately gets bitten by the system he has spent his life supporting; his companion Clover; Napoleon the cruel dictator (who is a pig of course) and his cronies and rivals, Snowball and Squealer. Each character has a unique voice and physicality which masterfully represents not only their animal qualities, but their human ones too. For example, to portray Clover, Masterson bends over, bows his head and shifts from foot to foot, just like Boxer. However, his in-turned knees and out-turned hands manage to betray the humble, bashful and gentle side to Clover's character.
Over the course of the two hours Masterson commands the stage. He leaps, rolls, cartwheels, barks, grunts and bleats whilst effortlessly leading the audience along through the narrative and clearly presenting the underlying messages. The sounds effects are made by Masterson's voice; to create the sound of group mutiny different snippets of his noises are played simultaneously creating a chaotic, rather creepy effect. The lighting design is equally effective, ranging from yellow and whitish general spreads to an intense red front light creating an iconic and propagandistic shadow of Masterson on the back wall. The technical elements were the only short fall of the show as there were several missed or incorrect sound and lighting queues. However, the nature of the performance allowed Masterson to easily progress from pig-dictator, to narrator, to actor, and the audience were all the more supportive and impressed for it. The show ended on a powerful image; Napoleon on the top hay bail, standing on two legs, with a grimace so hideous and pig-like as to send a collective shiver down the spine of the audience.
This was an excellent show, a true tour de force. Although it is a comic performance, Masterson leaves us with his interpretation of Orwell's message which is anything but: keep vigilant, stay engaged, be smart because, if not, corruption and oppression will rear their ugly heads and get the better of us all." (Phoebe Ladenburg 17th August 2010)
FROM ADELAIDE 2009:
"Guy Masterson's Animal Farm is an incredibly energetic and frightening theatrical experience.
According to its author, George Orwell, Animal Farm is a proclaimed 'fairy story'. As with most fairy stories, the allegorical points hold the greater weight. This story concerns the animals' desire for liberty from the constraints of the farm and human intrusion, which gives rise to their ideology of 'Animalism', and ultimate revolution.
Animal Farm is eternally modern and thought-provoking, providing parallels to the manipulations of contemporary human power, and the figurative blindness of society's inhabitants.
With a bale of hay as the only set-piece, Guy Masterson's performance is remarkable. Not only does he play the narrator, but the entirety of main characters (both animal and human). His performance is at times poignant and humorous, which really needs to be seen to be believed.
Tony Boncza's direction includes lighting that captures the feel of the piece, particularly when large malevolent shadows of characters are cast toward the back of the stage. The effect powerfully reflects the disturbing disposition of one having excessive power, or their illusion of it.
Animal Farm also contains fine use of sound effects. The animal noises were actually produced and mastered by Guy Masterson and director Tony Boncza, adding a great deal of atmosphere to the performance. If you haven't yet read Orwell's novel - What a vibrant introduction! (Anthony Grzyb - Adelaide Theatre Guide)
"Guy Masterson skips on to stage barefoot and clad in Yakka overalls to present his one man adaptation of George Orwell's 1945 classic novel, directed by Tony Boncza. It's bareboards theatre with the only prop a single bale of hay at centre stage. And Masterson certainly fills every inch of the space with his enactment of animal body language. He is at times pig, horse, chicken, cow, bull, sheep donkey, goat and raven. He kicks an invisible shed door open, leaps about the stage in the joy of animal victory, gazes in awe at the luxury of Farmer Jones's house and raises a trotter in triumph and solidarity. He squeezes laughs from the audience as Squealer the pig and amazement as the cartwheeling Boxer and later pathos as the loyal and hardworking old horse grinds to his inevitable and tragic demise.
This is indeed an impressive one-man tour. Masterson amuses with the interplay between controlling pigs Snowball and Napoleon and then moves the audience as the ascendency of Napoleon becomes more and more sinister; he harangues his subjects from his hay bale vantage with 'death to all traitors', covered in red wash lighting during the execution scene.
But Masterson also tells the story and tells it well. He is narrator as well as actor, switching roles seamlessly through the two hours. Included are many sound effect snips of modern leaders from Margaret Thatcher through Tony Blair to John Howard. The program notes warn that the book was not just about Joseph Stalin but about any modern state and the 'double speak and propaganda, the lies, threats, coercion, corruption and oppression, the spin and the sleaze, as its leaders fight to perpetuate themselves against the interests of those who they are supposed to serve.' Masterson ended the night drenched in sweat and drowning in applause. (Robert Horne - Adelaide Independent Weekly - 17 March 2009)
"George Orwell's 1945 novel Animal Farm has been filmed before (twice) but doesn't immediately seem surefire theatrical material, yet Guy Masterson (also in town in Oleanna) didn't let that get to him when first working on this one-man, one-night-only performance in 1994. A genuinely brave tour-de-force wherein Masterson plays every character (on a farm where rebellion satirically mirrors the scariest aspects of human society and history) via careful bodily movement and contortion with striking vocal characterisation - from Napoleon the domineering pig to Boxer the hardworking horse to the unnamed, apolitical puss - this is always engrossing, daring and hugely entertaining, with Guy's smooth, unpretentiously subtle style a true joy to behold. At two hours plus (with an interval) it might have seemed a daunting prospect to some members of the sell-out crowd prior to the show - but this proved one of the true highlights of the entire Fringe, and certainly one of the most extraordinary theatrical performances this reviewer has ever seen." (Mad Dog Bradley - Rip It up Adelaide - 18/03/09)
"Guy Masterson, unhampered by the fact that he has only two legs, presented his one man interpretation of George Orwell's classic political satire, set in that most famous of all farmyards. Masterson's script focuses strongly on the characters and situations, concentrating attention on the essentials. His tightly written script reflects his approach to theatre, as does his minimal set, props and costuming, a hallmark of his work. A hay bale, terrific sound effects and intricately devised lighting assist Masterson in his telling of this powerful piece, but it is his outstanding talent that brings these most unusual characters to life. Each participant in the tale is brilliantly depicted as Masterson changes his voice, face and demeanour, instantly and dramatically, as he switches from one character to another. Masterson's passing references to a few more recent egomaniacal dictators, sorry, Prime Ministers, British and Australian, highlights the ongoing relevance of this work. Sensational!" (Barry Lenny - The Fix - 18/03/08)
From Edinburgh 1995:
"Guy Masterson's totally committed rendition of George Orwell's Animal Farm is as essential a warning today as it was fifty years ago. Masterson does one helluva job in physically telling this story of betrayal and honour, from the initial hope and glory days of the animal's rebellion, to the deterioration toward compromise and corruption. This incredible feat of storytelling is intercut with the odd contemporary political speech. Such juxtaposition gives the moral fable the immediacy of an urgent warning. The physical exertion of this one-man tour de force leaves Masterson dripping with sweat. Orwell's book is perhaps more correct now in its outlook than it was at the time... It's all come to pass exactly as it shows... But it could never happen here, could it? The full houses for this show confirm that this is the right artiste, doing the right piece, at just the right time. " (The List - August 1995)
"ANIMAL MAGIC! ... Masterson ignites this famous tale bringing both humour and a sinister aspect to the rhetoric of the upwardly mobile pigs." (The Herald 26/01/95)
"The emotional texture of the book is sensitively recreated and the charm and allure of Masterson's performance makes the allegory more disturbing." (The Independent 14/08/95)
"Some actors are more equal than others, but few are quite as equal as Guy Masterson!" (The Times 16/08/95)
"A brilliant adaptation which delights with its physical grace and artistry. It's complex and entirely theatrical; a combination of bravura acting and poetic storytelling which milks new nuance and meaning. A prodigious talent!" (The Scotsman 13/08/95)
This is Jackanory for adults!... A real treat! Masterson creates an entire environment in which his audience are as much participants as spectators... Terribly clever and terribly amusing." (BBC Radio Derbyshire, January 1997)
"Armed with nothing more than universally recognised theatrics and minimalist props - a small wooden box, a whip and a bowler hat - Masterson adroitly squeezes out the black humour and the sinister characters of the upwardly mobile porcine platoon in his unique rendition of George Orwell's Animal Farm. With impeccable timing and laryngeal dexterity, he virtually melts from character to character." (Business Standard, Delhi, India September 1996)
"Brilliant he was, all through the 100 minute solo performance of Orwell's satire, the fourth adaptation ever sanctioned by the Orwell estate. Sad yet funny, inspiring and thought-provoking, if only tragically so, Guy's performance enthralled and amazed ... the adaptation retained the simplicity of a fairy tale and the poignancy of a masterpiece. The consummate ease with which he held the audience spellbound, single-handedly, speaks volumes for his talent." (The Pioneer, Delhi, India September 1996)
"The Jaipur audience, spellbound by the gestures and rhetoric of the master-actor, could react in just one word, "unbelievable"... retaining the original delicate impact the nuances and the satire of the literary masterpiece could not have been communicated to the audience in a better way." (Times of India, Jaipur, India September 1996)
"The stage was bare except for a weathered old wooden box, a couple of hats and a mug of mineral water. Then Masterson walked on, took the stage - and the audience did not let go of either for the next two hours. It was a brilliant performance in storytelling. One is not sure what he cast over his audience but with the performer's charismatic narration and sheer energy, one can sense the thundering hooves of an entire herd. The close-shaved head and bare feet in a neutral grey jump-suit handsomely aided the transition from two legs to four!" (The Hindu, Madras, India October 1996)
"Is he an extraterrestrial a man from another planet? ... Masterson with the help of director Tony Boncza has adapted Orwell's classic into a triumphant tour-de-force for his own skills as a solo performer who takes on the entire menagerie of animals - as well as the reactionary farmers and not least the narrator - to drum the message of Animal Farm for a late '90s audience. The interest lies in the actor's ability to communicate ... and the powerful sound and lighting effects." (Indian Express, Madras, India October 1996)
"With remarkable dexterity and the plasticity of his body and voice, the rhythm of his speech, but above all with the projection of a quality which distinguishes one animal from the other, we witnessed the power of a male horse, the coquetry of a goat, the wisdom of a donkey, the laziness of a cat. Audiences and critics were fascinated and the performances ended with ten minutes of applause." (Exostis journal, Thessaloniki, Greece April 1996)
"In front of an astonished audience, the British solo performer, Guy Masterson, unfolded Orwell's famous text giving life to the overwhelming figures, at times comical and at others menacing. Using excellent vocal and physical variations the transformation from one character to the next was unbelievably incredible... With a deliberately minimal set Masterson's technique shines in all its terrible power, elevating him to a real master of acting." (Kouinta Journal, Thessaloniki, Greece April 1996)