Association of Community Theatre


by  George Orwell

Manchester Athenaeum


A rehearsed reading.


Yet again I am reminded how quickly time appears to be flying as I wend my way to St Werburgh’s Parish Hall for the sixth annual time on the occasion of your unique mid-season presentation, which always strikes me as a true expression of the meaning of Community Theatre.  Once again this year, you had chosen a large scale dramatic work to present in your own unique way and the stark message behind the writing couldn’t have been made clearer.  Your presentation was received with rapt attention and interest, and must have affected and perhaps inspired the readers, requiring as it does concentration, comprehension and listening skills, from your audience.  Unlike your memorable Dylan Thomas evening a couple of years ago, which was virtually a play with scenery, costume and movement, except the cast read the story from a book, this year, with virtually no scenery or movement, cast dressed formally in black and seated across the stage, storytelling emphasized by humour and strong dramatic impact, was vital and even essential for the audience’s imaginative instincts, having little else to transfix them.


 The fact that you did, speaks volumes for the author and the dramatic impact of the story he was telling, and also for the skill, dramatic feeling and interpretational beliefs of the readers.  The part played by your director, Roger Browne, was a ever, inspirational and reflected the research he had devoted to the subject and the personal interest he had invested in the history behind the writing, essential, I think, for everyone’s point of view.  I was fascinated by his short reference in the programme to the company’s beginnings in 1847.  This incredible fact makes it the oldest, continuously operating society, certainly in the British Isles, possibly even further afield.  As it started life as a dramatic and reading society with eminent members, including Charles Dickens; when he states that “tonight”  171 years later,” we are returning to our roots” I realised what an incredible statistic that was, and how devoted present personnel are to preserve the work.


The animal inhabitants of Manor Farm, under the rule of an old boar, called Major, are summoned to a meeting where the subject proposed is that all humans are enemies, and where they are taught to sing a song called “The Beasts of England” as the first step in a revolution.  When Major dies, two pigs called Snowball and Napoleon take command and prepare for revolution.  The drunken, irresponsible farmer, called Jones and other human employees are driven off and the farm is renamed Animal Farm, and the inhabitants are forced to adopt seven commandments of animalism, the most important one of which is “All animals are equal”.  Over time Snowball teaches reading and writing and Napoleon the principle of animalism.  Food is plentiful and the farm begins to run smoothly under the new organisation.  Men attack in an attempt to recapture but the animals ambush and defeat the men with a surprise attack of their own, thus winning the “battle of the cowshed”.  Snowball continues to modernise and progress by the building of a windmill, and we begin to hear how the animals are beginning to develop as humans do, until Napoleon sets the dogs on Snowball and the pig finishes up in hospital.  Napoleon then takes control and the story continues.  The line between animal and human develops fascinatingly and we clearly see how “all animals are equal but some are more equal than others”, and we are left to await future developments with baited breath and there are many.  Orwell uses his plot to suggest the overthrow of the Czar and the Russian Revolution.  Well, it does.


The cast was Andrew Bridgman, Laura Collier, David Garner, John Jones, Jane Parker, Lucy Page, Jay Sanderson, Ian Simmonds, Carol Sutcliffe and Colin Titley.  It would be invidious to write about them individually.  They were essentially a team, each dependent on each other, each giving their individual characters individual lives, characteristics and beliefs.  Everyone on that stage gave of their best and created personalities in whom we could believe and even side with.  They had faith in what they were reading and imbued it with appropriate feelings; standing up to emphasize the drama where necessary or relevant to the story.  Roger used the piano at moments and to accompany some bits sung omnes, thus heightening drama at certain points in the story.  There was opportunity for humour in the telling of the story and I feel sure the audience went home having enjoyed an entertaining, uplifting evening as well as a learning experience further strengthened by being served a splendid supper at the interval, with a glass of wine or tea and coffee.  I think I have mentioned in previous seasons that this shows a miracle of organisation from members not on stage and doubtless from some who were, certainly from the clearing up afterwards point of view.  To-nights performance showed clearly a company’s togetherness as opposed to a group of people pretending to be someone else.  In fact the whole theatre – audience and the Athenaeum – radiated togetherness to-night.  I think that’s one facet of Community Theatre.


Lighting design was in the expert hands of Sue Maher and the lighting operation was well coped with by Hannah Darke for her first time, who stepped into the breach at the last minute when Sue was called away suddenly.  Well played in deed Hannah!


Congratulations to all involved in any way in this remarkable evening.  Thank you for your warm welcome as ever and your splendid hospitality.


Happy playmaking.