All team members are equal, but some are more equal then others

The highlight of a Fringe Festival for me is any production by the mesmerising Guy Masterton. Last year I sat through two electrifying performances (once, just wasn’t nearly enough) of his one-man production of Dylan Thomas’s ‘Under Milk Wood’ with tears streaming down my face as I watched him bring a two hour play with over 60 characters to life using no more than a pair of pyjamas, a chair and a pair of sunglasses. If ever the phrase ‘theatrical tour de force’ was merited, this was the event. Having ‘rested’ Under Milk Wood for a few years, thank goodness he has revived his other one-man production of Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’.

What’s Russia got to do with that?

Of course, every man and his attack dog knows Animal Farm as a lacerating political allegory of the October Revolution and the subsequent falling off of the wheels of idealism to be replaced by blood-stained tank tracks. The real and lasting power of Orwell’s story is however, that this is not just about a moment in time or a particular failed revolution. Animal Farm is as relevant today as it ever was because in its cross hairs is not ‘communism’ or ‘fascism’ or any other ‘animalism’, but the very thinking that produces, then excuses, then glorifies them. Masterton understands this perfectly and has updated the dialogue so that in places the etheral voices of Howard, Thatcher, Blair et al spin around the theatre determined to keep us all “on message”.

Animal Hospital?

This allegory is so acutely observed that it is impossible to watch without realising that you may have actually worked in an organisation like Animal Farm. You have probably had a boss like Napoleon with the iron trotter inside the velvet glove and have probably listened to spin-doctoring sophists like Squealer explain that black is really white and bad is actually good and before the end of the play you will have put real faces to the carnival of animals that Masterton weaves in front of you. It is simply too close to many executive or faculty meetings for comfort.

Language is the barn of being? (Apologies to Heidegger)

The ultimate tyranny on the farm is the tyranny of language. All dissent is questioned, undermined, dismissed and finally outlawed. The seven commandments of animalism are gradually and secretly diluted and altered until almost meaningless. There is only one game in town and that is Napoleon’s, for Comrade Napoleon is ‘always right’. Fast forward to health care or university or corporation plc in 2009 and what do we see?

The corporate trough overturns

In the recent and ongoing financial downturn we have seen organisations live by tenets of corporate totalitarianism that would have made Stalin envious of their pathological rectitude. Even post ‘excrement-hitting-fan’, the maxim that “some animals are more equal than others” seems alive and well, at least in the hearts of some AIG directors

Snowball was not “a team player”

Organisations have very subtle ways of letting their staff know what to think and adjusting their structures and processes to ensure that what Blake called “mind-forg’d manacles” are tighter than ever. The latest ‘damning report’ on a health trust in the UK noted that: “Trust board discussions were dominated by finance, targets and achieving foundation trust status.” I wonder what happened to staff in this organisation who questioned, challenged, raised concerns and possibly even suggested going ‘outside’ of the organisation with their concerns? What fate would have befallen them for being: “not on message”, “resistant to change”, “not team players”, “failing to see the big picture”, “exhibiting negativity”, “not thinking strategically”, “being a silo” etc etc etc. But like Boxer, they will always just “work harder”, or perhaps, if they really buy the spin, they will think that they are “working smarter, not harder”. Of course they are, and of course production is also up another 800%.

Let us take forward our quality and safety agenda comrades, let us continue to be a world class organisation and centre of excellence, fully committed to even more excellence and let us build our windmills even bigger and even higher… … … (continued p.96)

We pay a high price for ignoring these ‘animal rights’ and we owe a huge debt to Guy Masterton for bringing this timeless tale to life for us in this peerless piece of theatre.

If you live in Queensland, beg, borrow or steal to get a ticket to the Gold Coast shows on 25th and 27th March.