Theatre review: Agam Theatre Lab puts Singaporean spin on Animal Farm

Vilangkuppannai is based on P. Krishnan's adaptation of George Orwell's classic dystopian novella Animal Farm (1945). PHOTO: AGAM THEATRE LAB

Vilangkuppannai (Animal Farm)

Agam Theatre Lab

Esplanade Theatre Studio, June 18

An excellent theatre production should have a well-written script, good casting, fantastic use of space, lighting, music, set design and props. Home-grown Tamil theatre company Agam Theatre Lab's Vilangkuppannai checks all of these boxes and more.

The play is based on Cultural Medallion recipient P. Krishnan's adaptation of George Orwell's classic dystopian novella Animal Farm (1945), which alludes to the Stalinist regime via a tale of farmyard rebellion.

Directed by Subramanian Ganesh and Karthikeyan Somasundaram, the play brought to life the Singaporean elements of Krishnan's work, not just through dialogue, but also subtle scenes such as a taiji sequence.

It is no simple feat to make humans look like animals, but realistic prosthetics and make-up transformed the cast effectively.

The stand-out set by Wong Chee Wai featured a windmill structure that was fixed in place during the show by several cast members. The timing of its destruction was impeccable, catching many in the audience by surprise.

The play's use of shadows, neon-light visuals and split-screen videos may have been reminiscent of Zoom calls, but it made the overall experience a visual treat by constantly giving the audience a range of different things to look at.

While the use of music may have seemed distracting, it proved essential in enhancing emotions evoked by characters in the play. It also lifted the mood during dance numbers.

Just like Animal Farm's adage "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others", some of the actors stood out more.

The local Tamil audience would be familiar with actors such V. Mohan, Udaya Soundari and Karthikeyan Somasundaram for their boundary-pushing, award-winning performances in television dramas. Their spot-on acting comes as no surprise.

But also worth highlighting were the humorous turns of young actors such as Ponkumaran as Moses the crow and Akhilesh, who portrayed the farmer Pilkington using Singlish.

This two-hour play may not have been able to include every single element of P. Krishnan's book, part of which ran as a Tamil radio drama in 1971, but it does do justice to his immaculate writing.

This adaptation of Orwell's timeless original makes the decades-old work of a Singapore pioneer relatable to a new audience.

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