Arts Reviews

“Injected With A Dark Sense Of Humour” – Theatre Review: Animal Farm @Theatre Royal

Charlie Maris 

Orwell’s satirical look at animal revolution is magically brought to life in this impressive adaptation of Animal Farm. This tale of authoritarianism and the necessity of truth is as important as ever. Charlie Maris reviews.

For those unfamiliar with the novel Animal Farm is based on, the story follows a group of animals who decide to overthrow their oppressive farmer and run a farm themselves. Orwell’s story originally reflected the Russian Revolution and Stalinist Russia but this doesn’t stop this adaptation being relevant today. The pigs want to ‘take back control’ and the play brings to mind real-world megalomaniacs who deceive and cause suffering for power. 

It may be difficult to imagine how snorting and clucking animals can become sincere characters, but the puppetry here achieves this with aplomb. Toby Olie’s puppetry, previously seen in War Horse, brings majesty and vivid detail to all the characters. This is particularly true for the pigs as each manages to starkly diverge from the rest. Napoleon is a hulking mass of brash brutality, whereas Squealer becomes a plummy uptight enforcer damaging the sense of truth and is condescending to all. The most impressive of the puppets though is Boxer the horse, he literally crashes onto stage and the respect he generates is palpable throughout.

the music gives the show an operatic dimension

The show also excels technically with both the lighting and music pulling you further into the world of the farm. Blinding lights stream into the audience in the first half full of hope for revolution, this slowly changes over the course of the play with spotlights focusing just on the pigs instead. They begin to dominate the staging of the play as they begin to dominate the farm power structures, eliminating meetings and controlling speech. Similarly, the music gives the show an operatic dimension. Slow-motion scenes of battle are illuminated with classical music like Mahler giving the animals grace and creating an air of reverence.

This adaptation doesn’t spare any of the brutality of the farm. The farmer is always covered in blood and Old Major is slaughtered instead of dying peacefully as in the book. This production is cleverly injected with a dark sense of humour though. During the battle, the birds spray the farmers with poo and machine gun fire is played; this gives levity to some harsh scenes. This is also deployed to capture Animal Farm’s themes. Whenever an animal is killed a government-style broadcast flashes across the scene showing the banality of evil that totalitarian officialdom can lead to.

This production of Animal Farm inevitably ends with tragedy and the bleak nature of the final few scenes leaves a lasting impression that will stay with the audience for a while. The puppeteers disappear into their animals and engross you in the world of the farm, leaving you to feel for the idealism of the animals and how their hopeful dreams are corrupted into tyranny.  The accomplished nature of this adaptation forces you to appreciate the simple but brilliant nature of Orwell’s writing anew.

Animal Farm is showing at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 9th April.

Charlie Maris 

Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.

In-article image courtesy of @animalfarmonstage via No changes were made to this image.

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