Orwell That Ends Well: The Musical

Fri 17th – Sun 26th August 2018

reviews

Claire Louise Richardson

at 20:53 on 23rd Aug 2018

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1disagrees

'Orwell that Ends Well: The Musical', by Andrew Blackwell, is a busy piece bursting with content, comedy and character. However, it is all too much. Blackwell attempts, in an hour, to combine George’s Orwell’s dystopian 20th century novels Animal Farm and 1984. There is a love story, there are the oppressive Big Brother Thought Police, and most characters are either a sheep or a pig. Anyone who hadn't read these novels, or had not had a scroll on Wikipedia for their summary, would be very baffled.

Most effective is the storyline, and most powerful is the number, by the Thought Police. Each time someone utters the word ‘rebellion’, they storm on, klaxons blaring and red lights glaring, in shades and leathers. They somehow manage to successfully achieve their goal of a balance between Hitchcock and Disney. Theirs would be a stronger central line of narrative than the dull, cardboard romance between the sheep Winston and Juliet - particularly amidst the topical scandal of Mark Zuckerberg and data access. When Winston and Juliet start singing a duet called ‘Let’s Have Sex’, I start counting sheep.

Throughout there are some nice moments of comedy, such as when Squeaker, who is a lively and engaging star in the piece, bounces off stage announcing that they are ‘off to my sty to listen to the Smith’s’. Some of the other pop culture references, however, are forced - such as when we unnecessarily delve into a few lines of an Eminem track.

The musical is often over-complicated (though polished) where it doesn’t need to be, while other areas are left untouched. Such moments include Napoleon’s lack of a French accent when speaking a few lines of basic French, and when Winston glugs some vodka but does not wince – is this how sheep drink vodka, or a lack of fine tuning? The costumes are also half hearted – for the sheep, a costume is a white T-Shirt with ‘Baa’ written on it; something more creative wouldn’t require a great budget.

Overall an overcrammed musical was uplifted by the enthusiasm and energy of the performance, even in this morning show. Even if I thought it was overcomplicated, the audience clearly enjoyed the big numbers, even if we weren’t sure what was happening. If they gave the narrative a reshuffle, the story a simplification, and if some of the songs were omitted, it has a great premise.

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Sally Christmas

at 11:46 on 24th Aug 2018

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1disagrees

A musical based on George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, 'Orwell That Ends Well' is an ambitious piece that doesn’t quite follow through. The show has potential, but unfortunately it isn’t met, and the overall result is somewhat lack-lustre.

The musical numbers are definitely the show’s strong point. The songs were well-written and performed with a lot of energy, and with a lot of impressive vocal talent on stage there were some really nice moments. Julia stood out as having a great voice, and her song about her plan to have illegal sex with Winston was thoroughly entertaining, and memorable as a highlight.

The acting, however, was unfortunately mixed. O’Brien gave a strong performance, with a secure and confident delivery, and Big Brother, in his suit, dressing gown and leopard print scarf was a great character to bring in at the end. Winston was consistently great, and held the show well throughout. However, I have to say that some of the cast we weaker. A few of the roles lacked conviction it times it felt as though the actors on stage were having more fun than we were in the audience. The humour in the show was pulled of wit mixed success, with the occasional line delivering well; the fourth wall was broken a couple of times to great effect, and a fantastic joke about the Smiths brought a nice laugh-out-loud moment. But, with a running joke about Abba that wore thin very quickly, most of it just felt a bit forced. Comedy is a skill that takes time to learn, and this young cast definitely have potential, but as of now it just doesn’t quite work.

The actual storyline itself was odd; a creative idea, it ended up feeling convoluted. The mix of 1984 and Animal Farm was messy and confusing. The show did manage to inject fun into some quite dreary tales, even if it ended up a little incoherent at times. Combining two very different texts, adapting it for music, and making George Orwell funny on top of it was always going to be tricky. They would have done better to cut it down, simplify and perfect a smaller-scale show rather than attempting so much and not quite reaching it. Some glimpses of promise, but not much success, 'Orwell That Ends Well' didn't end up very 'well' at all.

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