George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” is one of the most popular books in the English language, and as a classic it has saturated school syllabi for years. It tells the tale of the animals of Manor Farm, who rebel against their two-legged foe, to form a republic. We watch as this effort sadly disintegrates and the pigs, the smartest of all the animals, slowly metamorphose into the cruel form of their predecessor.
The quality of acting in Ronson and Palmer’s production is not its downfall. Mungo Tatton Brown’s Old Major gave the piece a fantastic opening and his infamous speech was performed with gusto intermixed with pig-like snorts. The three pigs delivered great performances throughout, and although the show was stolen slightly by Peter Marshall’s terrifying yet hilarious Napoleon, Toby King and Adam Seldon performed to a high standard. Frankie Mitchell’s Mollie was well interpreted and Oliver McKinley’s Benjamin was a highlight.
The transformation of the Barn was impressive and refreshing; we were sat on the outside of an animal pen filled with whinnying horses, snorting pigs, hay and all. Once shown to my seat by an overall-wearing Farmer Jones, I was offered to feed one of the pigs with a carrot. In portraying animals, it is difficult to decide where to draw the line in terms of physicality, and fortunately there was no crawling around on the floor. By maintaining the posture of each individual animal in an upright position, the acting was unimpeded, but the effect could still be realised.
However, there were two distinct problems with this production. Firstly, the action of the text occurs across a wider rural landscape, and as the action had to take place within the Farm’s barn, the piece had a slightly limiting feeling. Secondly, I have always seen this story as a tragedy; it demonstrates the inevitable intervention of selfishness that interrupts a fight for equality. The difficulty with this production is that at the end we were laughing. Whether this was due to humourous nature of Napoleon’s comments, the “Made in Chelsea” Farmer or nervousness, I’m not sure.
Throughout the play there were moments of farce that greatly diminished the suffering of the more innocent members of the farm such as Boxer and Clover and the only truly poignant moment was the play’s final note; the look exchanged between Hannah Schembri’s Clover and Hayley Thompson’s Story-Teller. This more comical approach to the text is an interesting interpretation of a classic text, but for me, “Animal Farm” is a disturbing, gruesome tale, and though performed to a high standard, the production left me feeling underwhelmed.
This is a valiant effort to convey Orwell’s sinister story, but at moments it lacked the vital darkness to communicate the horror of Animal Farm.