Artbeat

19th May 2000 at 01:00
George Orwell died half a century ago and, to coincide with the anniversary, Mollin Video (better known for distributing Tintin and Asterix than for assaults on literary classics) have made a feature film of Animal Farm.

Written in 1945, the sharp satire on the idealism and souring of the Communist Revolution in Russia is a favourite with exam boards, both at GCSE and A-level, and teachers will welcome this Babe-meets-Lenin version, the first since the 1955 animation.

Pete Postlethwaite makes a convincingly drunken and down-at-heel Mr Jones, not unlike one of Roald Dahl's least likeable rural characters, and between times he provides Benjamin the donkey with a voice. Real animals and birds, filmed in a glorious Irish landscape, are joined by animatronics with some very expensive vocal expression: Peter Ustinov speaks for the venerable pig Old Major, Kelsey Grammer (better-known as television's Frasier) is Snowball, Julia Ormond is the sweet-natured sheepdog Jessie, and Paul Scofield is Boxer the loyal carthorse. Some of these are too genteel-sounding to be positive representatives of the proletariat and the dangers of sentimentality are sometimes compounded by the musical score. The rats, however, all sound like Bob Hoskins Cockneys.

We expect a good deal of animatronics in the post-Jurassic Park era and it is not always easy for these pigs to blend in with the real inhabitants of the farmyard.

Nevertheless, the book is all there, with the added irony of television being seen as a vehicle for mass control, although the ending, with the arrival of a cereal-packet-perfect family at the farm softens and muddles the effect of the book. Released on video and DVD on June 5.

There are animals of a decidedly human kind in The Last Battle, the London Children's Ballet production of the final Narnia story by CSLewis. You will be lucky to get a ticket for the performances this evening and tomorrow at the Peacock Theatre in Holborn, London, but young terpsichores may like to find out more in time for next year.

Five hundred or so young people between eight and 14, from schools in and around London and from all kinds of social and cultural backgrounds, audition each November for 55 places in the company.

They are each required to find pound;45 towards a costume, but otherwise all costs are met by fund-raising. To rehearse for The Last Battle, the children have travelled regularly, every Sunday since January, from as far away as Dorset and Leicestershire, and now they and their dedicated parents are rewarded with a full, professional-standard production backed by a live orchestra. For information: 020 8969 1555. E-mail: info@londonchildrensballet.com A specialist sports college and a special school in East Sussex have been working together to produce an integrated dance piece. The finl performance of Way Home, based on Libby Hathorn and Gregory Rogers's picture book about a homeless child, took place last week at Grove Park special school after Year 8 children from the school had been paired with Year 8s from Beacon community college in a "buddying" system. This was made possible by pound;6,500 inclusion funding from the DfEE and, says project leader Amanda Simpson, "many barriers have been broken down, resulting in new opinions and friendships".

There is something to celebrate in Solihull this week too. The million-pound Langley Arts and Sports Centre, incorporating the Dovehouse Theatre, is in the process of being launched at Langley School. An arts workshop, music room, sports hall, gymnasium, changing rooms, a specially commissioned stained glass window as well as the theatre, are the result of five years' planning and fund-raising, including grants from the Arts Council of England, Sports England and the Lottery.

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Anjali, a professional dance company of young adults with learning difficulties are joining students to christen the new facilities. The school looks out to the community and already has plans for two more special events: a concert by Welsh National Opera on June 27 and two showcases featuring musicians from West End shows on June 30 and July 1. Information: 0121 706 7139.

Success is familiar to members of the National Youth Music Theatre. Their Creation 2000 incorporates the creation myths of many cultures in music, movement, dance and drama, and has already received its premi re at St Edmundsbury Cathedral.

Tomorrow there will be a performance at Chelmsford Cathedral and two more great churches will play host to the work, based on an idea by Jeremy James Taylor and specially composed by Richard Taylor , in the autumn: Peterborough on October 21 and Canterbury on October 25. For information about NYMT, the leading music theatre company for young people, call 020 7734 7478.

A case of "let's put the show on right here" on Sunday at Guthlaxton College, Wigston, Leicester. Clarinetwise is offering a day-long workshop to anyone under 19 keen enough to turn up at 9.30 am with pound;5, a packed lunch and a music stand. Arranged in association with Leicestershire Arts in Education, the day offers workshops and ensemble-playing for clarinettists of all standards. Parents and friends are invited to attend the resulting free 4pm concert.

The Young Readers' UK Festival based in Birmingham starts tomorrow, goes on until June 3 and will peak next weekend with a free Big Bonanza Book Fair at Aston Hall. Poetry, storytelling, meet-the-author sessions and dramatisations of Roald Dahl are among the items on offer, some of them limited to schools and libraries. Information: 0121 303 3368.

Heather Neill.


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