Shows in DURBAN

12 - 15th Aug (9am & 12pm)

16th Aug (3pm & 6pm)

Study Guide

FABLE: A story containing a moral or lesson; animals usually talk in a fable and act as if they are human beings
ALLEGORY: A story with two meanings. One meaning is simple – it is about the characters in the story. Animal Farm, with this definition, is about the animals and what they do. The second meaning is deeper and symbolic. In other words, the characters and events in the story REPRESENT OTHER THINGS OR PEOPLE AND HISTORICAL EVENTS.

“All animals are equal; but some are more equal than others” – the final, single commandment on Animal Farm (Maskew Miller Longman, 2008:90)
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."(John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, historian and moralist)


In his essay "Why I Write" (1946), Orwell wrote that Animal Farm was the first book in which he had tried, with full consciousness of what he was doing, "to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole".

A play of Animal Farm was banned in Kenya in 1991 because it criticizes corrupt leaders. In 2002, the novel was banned in the schools of the United Arab Emirates because it contains text or images that go against Islamic values (ex: talking pig). The book is still banned in Cuba, North Korea and censored in China.


In the early 1900s, the Russian people were ruled by a Tsar (an emperor). His name was Nicholas II – meaning that he was the second tsar to have this name. Tsar Nicholas was married to a lady called Alexandra. She was the Tsarina (empress). Unfortunately for the Russian people, the Tsar was a very weak ruler and did as his wife and her lover told him. The Tsarina’s lover was a monk in the Russian Orthodox Church named Rasputin. The situation in Russia got really bad during the First World War (1914-1918) – also known as The Great War. Millions of Russian soldiers were dying and the people were starving. There were a number of well-educated men who were politically aware and who wanted to change how things were being done. This group of people was known as the Bolsheviks, or the Red Army. They were led by a man named Vladimir Lenin. The Bolsheviks organized an uprising in 1917 and overthrew the Russian Tsar and took over the running of the country.

Mr. Lenin used the writings of Karl Marx, who was opposed to a capitalist economy and society, to establish his government. Marx proposed that a classless society would work the best – where everyone was on the same level with the same amount of money, land, education, job opportunities. He believed that the wealthy people were exploiting the working class, or poorer people.

Lenin worked very hard to establish this ideal way of life. Unfortunately, he died in 1924 and two men, who had worked with Lenin to establish this new way of doing things, Josef Stalin and Leon Trotsky, fought over who would be the next leader of the government.

Stalin won the argument and proved to be a ruthless leader through the years that he was in power. Stalin ruled Russia from the 1920s till his death in 1953.

Over time, Stalin proved to be merciless with people who got in his way. If he was not impressed with an individual, he simply had them assassinated. Leon Trotsky was one of the first people to experience this side of the new leader. Stalin banished Trotsky to Mexico, where he was later assassinated by the KGB – the Russian Secret Police. Trotsky was found with an ice pick through his skull.

Historians are still uncovering information about Stalin which is proving him to have been an even bigger mass murderer than Hitler. Some statisticians say he was personally responsible for the deaths of 37 million people!

Stalin tried to implement three Five Year Plans in order to boost the economy of Russia after the First World War. He built the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics into a mighty force. When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Russia was still trying to build itself up. The three Five Year Plans were not very successful and the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. This was very sad because the people swopped the Tsar for someone who was a million times worse.

Stalin ruled with fear. The Secret Police he established – known to the West as the KGB – were vicious, heartless people who were unafraid of killing, torturing and maiming anyone who they felt betrayed Stalin.

George Orwell, a democratic socialist, was hostile to Stalin. In a letter to Yvonne Davet, Orwell described Animal Farm as a satirical tale against Stalin. Orwell wrote the book from November 1943 to February 1944, when the wartime alliance between the Soviet Union and England was at its height and when Stalin was regarded highly by the British people, a circumstance that Orwell hated. For those same reasons, the book was initially rejected by a number of British and American publishers.


The play has been adapted for stage and the African context. There are a few changes. For example, Mr Jones has become Maneer Joubert and instead of the anthem “Beasts of England” we have changed it to “Beasts of Africa”.

Neil Coppen says that the adaptation “really encourages learners to think critically around the reoccurring patterns of power and corruption within political systems and structures. As the country celebrates twenty years of democracy - I couldn’t imagine a more important time to be having these discussions with emerging learners and leaders.” On the other hand, Lali Dangazele posits that the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) requires that “every learner should be exposed to live performances wherever possible by professionals, community practitioners or by other learners.”

The play is followed by Q&A, helping learners to appreciate nuances entailed in essay and contextual questions.


Old Major – An aged and prize boar provides the inspiration that fuels the Rebellion in the book. He is an allegorical combination of Karl Marx, Lenin and the early Soviet nation.

Napoleon  – A large, rather fierce-looking boar. Napoleon is the only Berkshire on the farm with a reputation for getting his own way. He stands as an allegory of Joseph Stalin.

Snowball – Napoleon's rival and original head of the farm after Joubert’s overthrow. He is based on Leon Trotsky, but also combines elements of Lenin. Snowball is quicker in speech and more inventive than Napoleon, but is not considered to have the same depth of character.

Squealer – serves as Napoleon's right hand pig and minister of propaganda. Squealer has very round cheeks, twinkling eyes, nimble movements, and a shrill voice. He is a persuasive spin- doctor, and when he argues a tricky point he has a way of skipping from side to side and whisking his tail.

Mollie – Mollie is a self-centered, indulgent and vain young white mare who quickly leaves for another farm after the revolution

Boxer – Boxer is a loyal, kind, dedicated, and respectable cart horse. He is an enormous beast, nearly eighteen hands high and as strong as any two ordinary horses put together. A white stripe down his nose gives him a somewhat stupid appearance, and he is not of first-rate intelligence, but he is universally respected for his steadiness of character and his tremendous work ethic.

Clover – Clover is a stout motherly mare approaching middle-life, who has never quite got her figure back after her fourth foal. She is Muriel closest friend and Boxer's companion. Clover also acts as a matriarch of sorts for the other horses and animals in general. 

Muriel: Muriel is a sagacious old Gogo goat who ages considerably through the story. The play is told and flash-back through her and Clovers perspectives. She is a dear friend of Clovers and they confide in one another frequently. She is stoic and largely accepting of her lot.

Mr Joubert – The former owner of the farm. Joubert is a cruel task master and a heavy drinker.

Mr Frederick – The owner of Pinchfield, a small but well-kept neighboring farm, who briefly enters into an alliance with Napoleon. Fredericks’s is a tough, shrewd farmer perpetually involved in lawsuits and with a reputation for driving hard bargains.

Mr Pilkington – The easy-going but crafty and well-to-do owner of Foxwood, a large neighbouring farm overgrown with weeds. Pilkington spends most of his time in fishing or hunting according to the season.

Mr Whymper – A man hired by Napoleon for the public relations of Animal Farm to human society. At first he is used to acquire much needed goods for the farm such as dog biscuits and paraffin, but later used to procure luxuries like alcohol for the pigs

Other animals include: Dogs, UMoses the crow, The Sheep, The Hens and Cows.

Note: Due to cast size the character of Benjamin the donkey has been omitted. 


Actress playing Napoleon also plays Mr Joubert
Actress playing Squealer also plays a Cow, a chicken and a sheep
Actress PLAYING Clover also plays a hen, a pig, a dog and a sheep
Actress playing Boxer also plays Old Major, uMoses and Mr Pilkington and a sheep
Actress playing Snowball also plays Muriel and Mr Foxwood


The stage design resembles the inside of a barn. Three rickety wooden tables are used in various ways. Throughout the telling of the story they are reconfigured as barn- doors, a farm gate, The Joubert’s bed (with adjoining headboard) a pub-counter, trailer doors of the butchers cart etc. Four wooden apple- crates are placed around the stage and are used for multiple purposes. The shadow sequences also allow shifts in location and landscape, while also projecting the commandments and other texts that are painted on the barn wall. Cluttering the fringes of the performance area are various other props and implements one might find stored in a barn.


  1. When was the first time you read Animal Farm and what did you think about it at the time?  
    I never studied the book at school and only really came to it about six years ago when I was travelling in South America. I was stuck on a 36 hour bus trip in Peru and remember being instantly struck by the theatrical potential of the material. My play Tin Bucket Drum had dealt with very similar ‘Orwellian’ themes so it felt like a natural progression for me tackle this classic.
    I’m a huge fan of the masters of political satire, particularly Jonathan Swift and George Orwell. I’ve toyed for some time with the idea of South African theatrical adaptations of both Gulliver’s Travels and Animal Farm. So with Animal Farm I feel very close to the material and can identify instantly its resonance here in South Africa.
  3. What changes did you make to Orwell’s text and why?  
    Very few changes have been made and the ones I have made are only to contextualize the story in a more familiar South African setting. The story and characters-- barring a few topical South African references-- are identical to the book. I wanted to draw on the world around me when reimagining this story and show learners how close to Orwell’s story our own political climate and history is.
    Learners will note that there are major battle scenes between animals and humans and over twenty beloved characters to include and depict. As I was commissioned to adapt the production for school’s audiences, I had to find a way to stay true to the text and characters and not take too many liberties that might confuse students.
    What’s important for learners to remember is that what they are seeing is a stage adaptation of the book and as a theatre-maker I had to apply my own imagination to the telling of the story. When learners are answering exam questions on Animal Farm they must remember that they are being asked to comment on the original novel and not the stage play.
  5. Had you ever seen a production of Animal Farm on stage before?   Before writing the adaptation I read the book several times. I had never seen the production on stage before nor read any other adaptations of it. In a way this was a good thing as it allowed me to really create an adaptation that isn't derivative. I had to conceive the novel as a play from scratch, sifting it through my own imagination to envision how it would play out on the stage. 
  7. When you set out to create your own adaptation of Animal Farm what were you hoping to achieve on stage?  
    I suppose my aim was to excite young audiences about the novel and the theatrical- medium itself.  I think a large portion of our audiences seldom attend theatre anymore so I see it as my duty to remind them what a magical and exciting experience it can be.
    I was commissioned to create a stage production that remained close to the source novel so that learners could use it as a sort of study guide/refresher course.  Of course what speaks to us on the page doesn't always hold up on the stage so it’s really about mining the theatricality from the material.
    Our version of Animal Farm doesn’t shy away from the darkness and brutality that lies at the heart of Orwell’s allegory. This is NOT a cutsey Disney story about talking animals! I wanted to keep the elements of satire and parody but was cautious to ever let it slip into pantomime territory.
  9. Tell us a bit about your all female cast? How did that come about?  
    I auditioned in Johannesburg for over three months and saw hundreds of actors. Originally I had an open unisex call but after seeing how strong the female actresses all were I became more and more convinced I could get away with using an all- female cast in the production.  
    The actresses had to come in for several call -backs covering everything from improvisation, physical-theatre, text and accent work.  They were put through barnyard boot camp to get the roles. The demands of the show are huge. It’s incredibly physically and vocally taxing with each actress playing several roles and with two performances on most days of the week. I needed to know they would be able to survive the experience and deliver top-notch performances each time. 
    In South Africa, women are often cast playing submissive, subservient roles on stage and I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to subvert this sort of lazy and reductive typecasting. The actresses all worked in collaboration with me on this piece. They participated in research, bringing ideas and influences into the rehearsal room.
  11. You've teamed up with Daniel Buckland on choreography... have you worked with him before? What do you most appreciate about him with regards to his contribution to your production?  
    I had never met him (before Animal Farm) but I did dream one night that we were working on a production together. I emailed him the next day and said: “You don’t know me from a bar of soap but I had a dream that we worked together and I think we should see it as a sign.”
    I couldn't have done this show without him-- he really is the best this country has to offer in terms of movement and choreography. He understands character and body as a means of story-telling and he worked with the actresses for months to hone and craft their every gesture.
  13. Describe the look and feel of the production and what you were aiming to achieve with this.
    I was inspired by South Africa rural farm settings, images of political unrest over the last fifty- years, South African protest art, as well as Second-World War capers like the Dirty Dozen. The production definitely has a slightly dusty vintage (Sad Sacks) army feel about it.
  14. Some of the references include:

    Apartheid, colonialism, Propaganda, Soviet Russia, Soviet Art, East African masks and costume, Amandla: the music documentary, Hitler, Zimbabwe, land- grabs, Idi Amin, North Korea, Mine-strikes, South African Soccer hats, Zulu warrior dress.


    • Compare and contrast Napoleon and Snowball’s leadership style. What techniques do they use to gain influence and popularity? What is your view on the impact that their leadership has on Animal Farm?
    • Why do you think Orwell chose to use a fable in his condemnation of Soviet communism and totalitarianism?
    • Is there any relevance for Animal Farm to be studied by young people in South Africa? If so why?


Fowler, Roger. The Language of George Orwell. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996.
Gross, Miriam, ed. The World of George Orwell. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971.
Marx, Karl. The Communist Manifesto. New York: Bantam Books, 1991.


We are a level 3 BB-BEE contributor, we provide ground breaking live interactive performances as well as experiential workshops that lead to personal and/or organisational growth. Technology helps to measure and review impact of our offering.

Phone: +27 (0)11057 5088 or 011 057 5089


The organisation has been supported by the Arts Culture Trust, the Johannesburg City Theatres, the State Theatre, business Arts South Africa, Think Theatre as well as the Playhouse.

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