No horsing about in Orwell tale

James Malcher, rear, rehearses with the cast of Animal Farm. (Supplied)

By Luke Voogt

Clifton Springs actor James Malcher harnesses the quintessential Aussie tradie to play a horse in George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Malcher plays Boxer, a loyal, kind, hard-working and respectable cart-horse, in a local stage adaption of Orwell’s classic novel.

“In a lot of ways he’s like tradies you meet in the street,” the 27-year-old told the Independent last Friday.

“They go in, get the job done, have a bit of a laugh about it, and move on.”

Sometimes naive and gullible, but dedicated and extremely strong, Boxer is Orwell’s representation of the working class.

“He’s the legs and the labour of this story, but the way he gets treated over time depends on his usefulness,” Malcher said.

Orwell uses the farm as a metaphor for rulers and their exploitation of other classes.

“You can read or look at these animals and judge them differently to how you would a human – that’s one of the reasons why George Orwell was so brilliant,” Malcher said.

“It’s ostensibly a book on history. For us it’s been a really interesting book to adapt, as we can use it to question how modern economics and politics are working in a contemporary sense.

But the cast would not be taking their roles as animals too literally, he said.

“You won’t see many actors on all fours or making animal noises.”

Malcher grew up in Clifton Springs and has loved acting since his first primary school play.

“My earliest memory is playing a circus strong man down at the Potato Shed,” he said.

“I enjoyed the experience of it.”

He joined Grace Acting Studios before studying performing arts at Monash University, where he discovered the motley group of artists known as Bloomshed.

Bloomshed began seven years ago when founders James Jackson, James Hogan, Tom Molyneux and Elizabeth Brennan started creating work in a shed in Carnegie.

“I’d seen a few of their really early works they did out of their backyard,” Malcher said.

“Their style is very different to a lot of theatre companies around Melbourne.

“It’s visceral, visual and grungy. In one of their shows, they filled the shed with fans.”

Malcher later joined the group, which includes actors and theatre professionals from across Geelong, Melbourne and regional Victoria, with a “core group” who studied at Monash.

“We’ve actually got three different generations of students that went through that program,” he said.

The group had planned to perform Animal Farm in 2020.

“This project’s been almost two years in the making now because we were meant to do it last year,” Malcher said.

“Theatre got absolutely smashed in Melbourne. You do it when you can and then you have your survival jobs – I work at the MCG and at some of the wineries down here.

“We did turn one of our plays, Paradise Lost, into a radio play, so that was a fun experience.”

The group returned to in-person rehearsals a few months ago at a Brunswick community hall and, occasionally, Luna Park.

“One of the producers works there so we’ve been rehearsing with all the rides going off in the background,” Malcher said.

He looked forward to bringing Animal Farm to Platform Arts in central Geelong, but admitted the Bloomshed had some stiff competition for last night’s opening production.

“We open on a night that the Catters are playing,” he said prior to the show.

Luckily, Animal Farm runs for four more shows from tonight to next Wednesday.

“We’ve got a reasonably lengthy season to bring it down,” Malcher said.