Does power beget corruption, fear and oppression? Let us count the ways.
George Orwell’s beloved allegorical work, Animal Farm, which is based on the Russian Revolution and the subsequent formation of a communist state, will be given a local spin in an upcoming Malay language adaptation called Kandang by father and son team Tan Sri Muhammad Ali Hashim and Omar Ali.
Here, the pursuit and trappings of power, a theme that remains as relevant as ever in modern day society as it was when Orwell wrote it in 1945, will be examined within a more regional context.
Following on the heels of their first collaboration last year in Dato’ Seri (an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth), Kandang will be staged at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac) from Aug 10-13. It is presented by The Actors Studio, with a cast comprising Clarence Kuna, Farah Rani, Faez Malik, Ashraf Zain, Nik Waheeda, Joe Chin, Zul Zamir, Nabil Zakaria, Coebar Abel and Endee Ahmad.
Omar, who is also the show’s director, shares that he wanted to tackle “something more modern” after working on Dato’ Seri, which his father was agreeable to, but only on the condition that it had to be something with a message, something meaningful.
They found that in Animal Farm.
“When we talk about power, we often talk about the perks of power, and rarely about the responsibility, accountability and the ripple effects of its consequences. Unfortunately, it is seldom this aspect of power that appeals to people; instead, it is the promise of what you can do with that power that draws them in,” says Omar in reference to the themes explored in Animal Farm.
He observes that Orwell’s work, which cleverly makes use of anthropomorphism in its storytelling, tracks the evolution of the often paradoxical nature of ideology-building.
If there is one lesson that we can learn from history, it is that modifications incorporated into the system at large often have an uncanny tendency to morph into something that couldn’t be more different than what it initially set out to do.
“We dream of a better society, and we introduce changes to the system to attain that. But all too often, even the most well-intended solutions evolve over time to be a problem in itself. This is a recurring theme in Animal Farm, just as it is in the history of mankind. I guess that’s why people say the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” muses Omar.
In one memorable scene in Animal Farm, voices of dissent are quashed even before they are heard, stifled with a new commandment boldly scrawled out for all to see: “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”.
Kandang’s movement director Ho Lee Ching points out that the animals in Animal Farm represent human characters during the time of the Russian Revolution, which makes taking on Kandang an interesting, though challenging, project.
“It’s tricky really, because we are people, playing animals who were written based on people,” she says.
Describing the “physical language” used in Kandang as “animalistic”, she shares that they have spared no effort in getting the cast to convincingly transform from actor to animal, with much attention paid to the “animals’ spine, breath, centre of gravity and their rhythms”.
“It is not just mimicking an animal physically, it is about getting them to be able to embody the essence of the animal and utilise animal instincts in the creation of their characters. After all, Orwell had chosen these specific animals to represent real-life characters, which means both the human characters and the animals have similar qualities. We are all simply animals,” explains Ho.
There are also movement sequences where the animals have to work, for instance, plough the fields or build an irrigation system (in lieu of building a windmill in the original text).
“These movement sequences were initially inspired by farm work. I wanted to use something that could be used for the different kinds of work, and eventually latched onto the idea of using sticks, drawing inspiration from martial arts, colour guards and stomping,” she shares.
Adapting Orwell’s work, originally written in English, into a Malay play did not come without its challenges. A major consideration was not to compromise the core message at the heart of the English author’s work.
“Every translation is an interpretation, therefore, every translation is an adaptation. Our challenge then became about striking that balance of adopting a local spin on things, yet retaining the voice of the original work,” says Omar.
He comments that as serious as the subject matter is in Animal Farm, it is presented in such a lighthearted manner that you can’t help but have fun with it.
“It is a satirical allegory and I hope our interpretation in Kandang does not stray too far from the original. There is just something so charming about the way it discusses society, human civilisation and history, and we hope this comes through in Kandang as well,” he adds.
Kandang runs for two hours, including a 15-minute intermission. It is presented in Malay with no surtitles.
Kandang is on at Pentas 2, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac), Sentul Park, Jalan Strachan, off Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah in Kuala Lumpur from Aug 10-12 at 8.30pm and Aug 13 at 3pm. Tickets: RM55 and RM45 (concession). Call 03-4047 9000 / 03-7880 7999 or visit ticketpro.com.my.