Pete Burness-Smith reports that the ‘George Orwell’s Henley’ chapel tenancy has been secured and will be opened in early 2012 and also that the first annual Animal Farmyard was “a great success on Thursday night at The Kenton Theatre in Henley-on-Thames.
The evening was planned to celebrate and financially support that community project and to make a tribute to Eric Arthur Blair’s formative years in Henley. In keeping with a concept of spherical Time, Henley’s Harry Stott (The West End’s ‘Oliver’), represented the young writer in a series of set pieces delivered from a stage-set that replicated the young Eric’s bedrooom in 1917, complete with Eton College trunk and period fishing rod.
The set pieces included readings from ‘Eric & Us’ by Jacintha Buddicom; an explanation of the metaphor of Empire and Middle Class in Orwell’s ‘Shooting An Elephant’; readings from Remarque’s ‘All Quiet On The Western Front’ and also from ‘A Christmas Truce’ to demonstrate the concepts of Alienation and man’s futility, also embedded in Orwell’s work. Harry read the two Henley Standard published poems reprinted in ‘Eric & Us’ and developed the theme of Orwell’s eventual sense of defeatism reflected in ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’. These deliveries captivated the audience, as did the video footage that included the Apple Macintosh ‘1984’ TV ad and other striking imagery from 20th Century culture.
The address was punctuated by musical performances from Ellen & The Escapades of songs by Ray Davies and George Harrison including ‘Animal Farm’, ‘Isn’t It A Pity’ (with guest singer, Noel McCalla) and ‘Here Comes The Sun’. During the second half, the band won an ovation with a thirty-minute set of original songs, before ending the evening with their rendition of ‘Piggies’ by George Harrison.
Mike Rowbottom came close to stealing the show with a showcase reading from Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ with much dramatic gusto. Harry then declared “I wrote a little book about a big thing, humanity. Then I wrote a big book about a little thing, man”.
The video for John and Yoko Lennon’s ‘Happy Christmas, War Is Over’ struck a resounding chord of visual gravitas before Harry, in his best Dickens style, delivered his own ‘Happy Christmas Everybody!’ The two-hour long show was recorded digitally for TV.
A busy theatre audience gathered with the entire cast in the lobby afterwards.”