Using simple storytelling and puppets of the main animal characters, this production brings Orwell’s landmark book to life. When Old Major the boar gathers the animals of Manor Farm together to share his vision of a farm owned and run by themselves, the pigs formulate his ideas into an entire school of thought that they call Animalism. They prepare to take over the farm, and before long their dream is realised through the Rebellion.
For a while, the animals’ new life resembles the utopia that Old Major envisioned, but soon the pigs start to garner more and more power for themselves. Eventually, the original Seven Commandments of Animalism are replaced by one central tenet: “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.
It is a very physical play, with well-choreographed sequences and realistic movements that give the animal characters impressive depth. Particular mention must go to Boxer, whose slow, heavy movements and sombre voice are the perfect evocation of a cart horse, and whose eventual death is a heart breaking moment. The puppet of Moses the raven is another triumph, as are his occasional and thrilling appearances on the farm to prophesy about the animal heaven of Sugarcandy Mountain.
The simple staging and rustic feel tell the story effectively, but serve to play up the humorous aspects. This Animal Farm is not as sinister or as provocative as the late Mr Orwell intended his tale of communism and the abuse of power to be. It’s clever and entertaining, but don’t expect this play to chill you to the bone.
Reviewed by Annabel Mellor
Animal Farm is playing at the Courtyard Theatre until 13 March 2016