George Orwell, adap Ian Wooldridge
Octagon Theatre, Bolton, Derby Theatre and Hull Truck Theatre
Octagon Theatre, Bolton
February 1-24, 2024; 1hr 50mins
(also Derby Theatre from Feb 28; Hull Truck Theatre from March 27)
Is George Orwell's Animal Farm still relevant today? You bet it is.
The story was first published in 1945, as a biting satire on events leading up to the Russian Revolution, and then the harsh Soviet regime under Stalin. It is an allegory in which the anthropomorphic animals rebel against their human masters in a bid to be free and equal. But the pigs gradually take control and the other animals soon learn the painful (in some cases fatal) lesson that some animals are more equal than others.
This new stage version, adapted by Ian Wooldridge and directed by Iqbal Khan, draws successfully on Orwell's timeless themes of community and loyalty, challenged by propaganda, dictatorship and fear. Not quite as successful - despite some supportive music, sound effects and lighting - is Khan's stated premise that here the revolution is against contemporary technology and surveillance.
Nonetheless, this production has much to commend it.
The set opens with wicker heads of farm animals hung from above - more of these are used to good effect as costume to denote the animal characters. The play begins with the elderly pig, Old Major, recounting his dream that the animals will overthrow their masters and enjoy freedom. Polly Lister takes the role convincingly and with a strong singing voice. She also takes the role of Clover, the cart horse who starts to realise that things aren't quite right in the longed for Animal Farm. She shows her tender side in her relationship with Boxer (Sam Black), the male cart horse, who is naive and not very bright.
All the cast members play more than one role, varying from pigs to hens, a donkey, a raven and more. The movement and mannerisms of the different animals are very well portrayed, especially by Amy Drake as the silly and skittish young mare, Mollie.
There are some light moments, but overall this is a dark and powerful play. We only need to look at world events today to see that humans could still learn from Orwell's messages.
Info and tickets here