Robert Icke’s bold reimagining of George Orwell’s 1945 novel Animal Farm could not be more timely or relevant as the famous allegory for the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the corruption of ideals by power feels all too real with the events in Ukraine and the irrational statements of the Russian President. The steady horrific fall from Major’s strong idealistic vision embodied in eight commandments including “all animals are equal” and “Four legs good, 2 legs bad” (excepting all birds of course) to Napoleon’s rewriting of history and just one commandment, “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” is stunningly and clearly portrayed by the cast of fourteen with thirty puppets.
The staging by Bunny Christie is simple with a black brick wall on which are projected in white letters the different scenes, timeframes and deaths and clever use of the mobile barn walls to enable fast-moving scene changes or entrances of puppets. The story spanning several years is naturally episodic with some quite short scenes, but the set-piece battles to defend the farm are graphically recreated. Smaller puppets are used to portray some scenes like the plowing of fields, building the windmill or the farm buildings. These are less effective than the main scenes on the open stage but provide variation and depict key narratives. The use of classical music builds tension and underscores the action.
The production is by the Children’s Theater Partnership but although young kids will be enthralled with the staging, teenagers will love the visible depiction of their GSCE set text, it is the adults who will engage and be moved by the clear allegorical messages. Orwell may have intended this story as a parody of the Russian Revolution, but his writing finds parallels in so much of history whether Hitler, the Chinese cultural revolution, Kim Jung On, Trump or Putin where absolute power corrupts and endangers humanity and where it runs without check or counterbalance. The outcomes in Animal Farm are horrific as Icke’s production spells out and the final result, an unlikely alliance, is equally shocking but serves as a timely reminder of the care and diplomacy required now to find a good outcome for the current crisis some 75 years after Orwell wrote his book.
This wonderful production is definitely worth seeing on tour in the UK until May, by when we must hope that the current episode crisis will have passed, and we can reflect on another past of history with lessons learned.
Review Nick Wayne
Seat: Circle, Row E | Price of Ticket: £41