‘Prosperous Farm, (Un)happy Animals’
The Great Animal Revolt begins at Teku’s Kausi Theater with a pig’s rousing speech calling for revolution against a human oppressor.
As Old Major the pig (played by Aayush Niroula) delivers his call to arms, other animals in the farm snort, neigh, bleat and cluck in righteous rage and indignation — the farm’s human owner has oppressed them for long enough, and they will tolerate it no more.
As the farm animals unite, driving out their stumbling drunk of a human owner. The pigs (Kepoleon, SB, and Chaaplus are the Nepali versions of Napoleon, Snowball and Squealer) take charge, promising the other animals a ‘Prosperous Farm, Happy Animals’. The line seems to be straight out of the Nepal Communist Party’s 2018 slogan of ‘stability and prosperity’.
Theatre collective Katha Ghera’s Animal Farm is directed by its co-founder Akanchha Karki, who also adapted the play in Nepali from Prashant Kumar Nair’s English dramatisation of Orwell’s 1945 classic.
Karki has made the play relevant to the current Nepali milieu in 2021, infusing the original source with relevant commentary on the country’s socio-political climate.
“I was privileged having been raised in Kathmandu. As I grew up, I became aware of the society around me, and I felt the wrath of injustice, which I channeled into this play,” says Karki. “Rage is an important feeling.”
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What is most striking about the play is Karki’s deviation from Orwell’s original source material to include female voices and experiences in the play. Snowball, for example, as SB is female, and played by Ojaswi Bhattarai. She is the idealistic pig eventually cast out from the farm by Kepoleon when her ideas begin to threaten him.
And the sheep, played by Sebita Adhikari, are not stereotyped as just followers, she is in fact the only character throughout the play who has the gumption to leadership, fully knowing the repercussions of her actions.
“It is definitely a criticism of the original work,” says Karki, speaking about her choice to characterise some original characters as female. “I have often felt that women are driven away, suppressed, gas-lit and considered a threat — much like like SB was in the play — when trying to lead, or have an opinion because their ideas are brighter and bigger than others in the room. The characters are a reflection of those shared experiences.”
The same goes for Mala the mare who is more than the self-indulgent, vain Mollie from Orwell’s original. She is, ultimately, the only character that has agency in the play: leaving the farm of her own free will after directly addressing the audience. This is a critique also of Orwell’s shortcomings in his characterisation of her as a weak-willed female.
The play is also infused with moments of hilarity, largely through Rishikesh Basyal’s enthusiastic performance as Kepoleon’s mouthpiece Chaaplus. Basyal’s delivery of the now-familiar line “Sneeze a few times, drink some turmeric water, and drive the virus away” when the animals panic about an epidemic sweeping through neighbouring farms is relevant and inspired.
Ingi Hopo Koinch Sunuwar and Ojaswi Bhattarai are memorable as the power-hungry Kepoleon and idealistic SB respectively, and Roshani Syangbo, Prayash Bantawa Rai, Binita Lama Gurung, and Sebita Adhikari turn in earnest performances as the three horses (Bhakta, Malati, and Mala) and the sheep respectively.
“Why is it so difficult to remember why we began, and how we ended up here?” asks Malati the mare towards the end. By this time, the animals have fully realised what the play has been moving towards all along — that all animals are equal, but some are indeed more equal than others.
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“The play is a reflection of the fact that in each of us there could be a power-hungry pig, or a blindly follower horse, or a donkey who knows something is wrong but refuses to speak up about it,” says Karki. “Sometimes it is due to convenience, sometimes it is fear, sometimes it is indifference.”
The director adds, “I hope the play can contribute in some way to how we as a society can be more empathetic and compassionate towards the world around us.”
Animal Farm will play at Kausi Theatre in Teku until 18 December 2021.