Q&A/What to SEE/Theatre

What to SEE: Animal Farm

21 September 2021

It’s Orwell, but not as you know it. That’s what Black Swan State Theatre Company is promising audiences in Van Badham’s take on his seminal novella Animal Farm. Cast member Andrea Gibbs tells Nina Levy all about it.

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Andrea Gibbs is a Perth-based actor, producer, comedian and broadcaster, co-founder and producer of Barefaced Stories and presenter of ABC Radio’s Weekends program. She plays the roles of Clover, Pilkington, Snowball, Old Major… and a dog in Black Swan State Theatre’s upcoming production of Animal Farm, adapted from George Orwell’s novella by incisive Australian writer and social commentator Van Badham.

Van Badham’s take on Orwell’s anti-Stalinist allegory is infused with both contemporary politics and technology, exploring the Trump era political landscape of fake news.

A headshot of a woman - she smiles without showing her teeth. She wears a black and white spotted shirt.
Andrea Gibbs. Photo: Marnya Rothe

Nina Levy: Andrea you juggle so many career balls! How do you make it all work? And how have you managed during the pandemic?

Andrea Gibbs: I didn’t want to leave Perth after I finished performance studies at uni, so I worked hard to make myself useful here. That meant getting off my bum, not waiting by the phone and creating my own work. Jumping from one thing to the next can be quite full-on and puts you under a lot of pressure, but it makes for some interesting and fulfilling days.

During the pandemic, being able to do a lot of things has served me well. Last year I was asked to do a few different things which were in my wheelhouse – but maybe wouldn’t have happened if not for lockdown. I got to guest direct the Bachelor of Performing Arts students at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and create an in-car audio experience through Kings Park. It was an idea I had during the lockdown and we made it happen.

NL: And what drew you to Black Swan State Theatre Company’s new production of Animal Farm?

AG: The great team. I feel really blessed to be working alongside some of Australia’s best creative women.

NL: Asking writer, social commentator and Guardian-columnist Van Badham to adapt Animal Farm feels like a genius move on the part of Black Swan State Theatre Company… how has Van adapted the work to make it more relevant to contemporary audiences?

AG: The show was originally scheduled to be performed during Trump’s US presidency, so there’s an obvious nod to his leadership style. But even on the other side of that, it’s been interesting to look at where we are now in terms of who is in power and how they got there. I find it all very unsettling. Animal Farm is a book that I got quite emotional over when I read it as a high schooler. It’s still moving and relevant now.

NL: And how is contemporary technology used to modernise the work?

AG: It was very clear that Fox News promoted Donald Trump’s propaganda when he was in power which helped to destabilise democracy in America, so we use a lot of “news” footage throughout the play as a nod to that. And we have also filmed some very funny stuff which supports the live performances.

Three women stand in a studio, holding scripts - they all appear to be speaking forcefully or even shouting. They wear casual clothes. In the background is a whiteboard and some costume rails.
Megan Wilding, Alison Van Reeken and Andrea Gibbs rehearsing ‘Animal Farm’. Photo: Daniel J Grant

NL: Tell us about your roles in Animal Farm… what are the highlights and challenges of being in this production?

AG: Well, there are many characters and just three actors. We are running all over the shop. It’s pretty hectic but a lot of fun.

NL: Animal Farm is a commission for Black Swan – how does working on a new commissioned work differ from working on an existing play?

AG: We are constantly going back and forth with Van Badham and the script can change. It’s lovely being able to work with the writer so closely. You don’t get to do that with existing scripts. Being part of a new work is a very special feeling.

NL: I’m a bit of a fangirl of Van Badham’s… what is she like to work with?

AG: She is a powerhouse and deeply cares about what is happening in the world. She is a tough cookie. Whip-smart. We have a life-sized cut out of her in our rehearsal room. It’s fair to say we are all fangirls of Van.

Catch Andrea Gibbs in Van Badham’s Animal Farm, 2-24 October at the State Theatre Centre of WA.

Pictured top is actor Megan Wilding in a greenscreen rehearsal for ‘Animal Farm’. Photo: Daniel J Grant

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked for over a decade as an arts writer and critic. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. Nina was co-editor of Dance Australia magazine from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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