Unease stirs in the audience as George Orwell’s classic political allegory rings as uncomfortably true as ever. This new adaptation brings life and laughter to an eventually damning tale of political corruption, greed and exploitation.
Animal Farm tells the story of a revolution against an oppressive, exploitative farmer to establish a new equal society for the animals on the farm. Over time, the revolution is exploited for personal gain by a few shrewd individuals who use the revolution to assume the position of the oppressor, just under a new name. It is, of course, Orwell’s manifesto against totalitarianism, Napoleon represents Stalin. Napoleon claims to be a revolutionary while re-establishing the same systems of oppression he claims to be deconstructing. It is not, however, a critique of communism. Many on the political Right seem to think that it is. Orwell very sharply demonstrates how totalitarianism and ideology can be easily exploited by those with nefarious intentions.
The politics of this is unavoidable, Napoleon is a pompous narcissistic old-school brit who lies through his teeth to the assembled masses (hmmm sounds familiar). The political movement claims to be for all, and yet some are left out; I cannot help but see the parallel between this and trans-exclusionary ‘radical feminism’, or movements that claim to liberate the working class but exclude people of colour.
The puppetry is brilliant. Fifteen years ago, they took the world by storm with War Horse; this play takes a new approach that does the job excellently. While ‘Joey’ from War Horse is the most realistic puppet I have ever seen, these puppets lean towards more pantomimical and cartoonish. This works well; in a political allegory dealing with exaggerated characters and scenarios, it makes sense to work in a less non-naturalistic style.
Robert Icke (Director) has his fingerprints all over this. Stark lighting, screens dictating the fast tempo and weighty dialogue make this recognizable of Icke’s brilliance from the word go. The grand proportions of Designer (Bunny Christie) make for an exciting watch while reminding us of the scale of Orwell’s political assertions.
My only quibble with this might be unavoidable. The animals’ dialogue comes through speakers and might well be pre-recorded, so we lose a sense of liveness. I don’t know how the production could avoid this, but it is a slightly odd watch.
Icke’s production is an excellent example of political allegory brought to the stage to create an accessible and engaging examination of our political climate. It is a very short run at the Richmond, but I have a feeling this might stick around for a while.
Review by Tom Carter
George Orwell’s world-famous fable tells the story of a revolution and its aftermath. Re-imagined by an award-winning creative team, Animal Farm is a dynamic, daring and contemporary take on a timeless story.
The animals of Manor Farm drive out the farmer and run the farm themselves. A revolution. And then what? Then freedom. Every animal will be free.
Old Major, the prize boar, calls the animals of Manor Farm together. He has had a strange dream of a better future.
The cast of Animal Farm includes Matt Churcher, Darcy Collins, Enrico D. Wey, Ailsa Dalling, Elisa De Grey, Edie Edmundson, Michael Jean-Marain, Rayo Patel, Yana Penrose, Markus Schabbing, Sharon Sze, Ben Thompson and Matt Tait.
By George Orwell
Adapted and directed by Robert Icke
Set and Costume Designer – Bunny Christie
Puppet Designer and Director – Toby Olié
Animal Farm at Richmond Theatre
The Green, Richmond TW9 1QJ
Animal Farm is at Richmond Theatre from Tuesday 10th May, 2022 to Saturday 14th May, 2022.