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Review by Anna King
“There was nothing there now except a single Commandment. It ran:
ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL
BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL
Since its publication in 1945, George Orwell’s wonderfully sinister fable Animal Farm, a disturbingly blunt political comment told through the uprising of the animals at Manor Farm, has remained a classic tale, which shows us all the ways in which revolution can go wrong.
The People’s Theatre, therefore, undertook an enormous challenge in reproducing such a renowned and loved piece of fiction – and it didn’t disappoint. The approach taken was unique and interesting, each storytelling technique clearly having been deliberated over before being used. The combination of drama and narration taken directly from the novella produced a lively blend, which was well-suited to the plot.
What was particularly striking about the performance was the use of set and props;: the rods held in both hands to create the notion of having four legs by the cast members was innovative. The set (designed by Rhiannon Wilson and Stewart Dives) was starkly minimalist, with a silhouette of the farm and various boxes being used for key points in the story (the green flag, the Manor Farm/Animal Farm sign, the boulder). The fact that the story is a metaphor for the human race and its many revolutions was conveyed through the simplicity of the costumes (designed by June Green, Pam Richold, Anneliese Bibby), with helmets displaying ears, manes and such, as the only indication of animal qualities. This made clear that the production, like the novel, was not to be taken merely at face value, something which I thought was particularly poignant.
Having said that, I believe the play – in this way unlike the novel – could really be enjoyed by all, including children, for whom it could be viewed simply as a dark fairy story. There is no graphic violence on show, but none of the book’s key themes are lost because of this.
As far as the performance of the actors goes, despite the considerable youth of many cast members, the drama was well-executed, both by the leading actors and the supporting cast. Animal Farm, it strikes me, if performed, must be largely dependent on physicality, and the company carried this out excellently, with subtle motions – those which express not just the animals, but the characters within them – being carefully crafted. The lyrical aspect of the play (occasional rhyming, chanting, et cetera) was interesting, if perhaps a little obstructive of the storyline.
All in all, the production is well worth seeing, an engaging adaptation of one of Orwell’s most famous works.