Animal Farm

Venue: Drama Barn
Run: 27th-29th Jan
Directed by: Kat Ronson and Sarah Palmer
Produced by: Amy Moss
Rating: ***

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.

5 comments

  1. Stars in the Morning Sky got 4 stars. Animal Farm was both brilliantly innovative and highly entertaining. 3 stars is an insult.

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  2. Hello Aggie,

    I loved the play so much I want to feed back my views, for you, and others, to consider.

    ‘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.’

    For me as a viewer i could see this was clearly deliberate. How could it not be considering the continuity of the comedy? It was not simple off-the-cuff, improvised gags. Similarly, perhaps there is some comic casting going on (Squealer/Adam), although that is debatable. Particularly the satire of the English gent (perhaps more pertinent and amusing if it was “Made-In-Chelsea-esque. I wouldnt know – i haven’t watched it) is deliberate.

    ‘Nervousness’ is a patronising insult, to which I fundamentally disagree, belittling how professional the play was.

    ‘Throughout the play there were moments of farce that greatly diminished the suffering’.

    Do they? Debatable. The reviewer has missed the intrinsic links between comedy and tragedy which so many great playwrights use. The part where Adam pinches boxers’ face whilst taking the piss is hilarious yet horrible, confusing the viewer who “should” sympathise (if not empathise) with the latter.

    The reviewer does not distinguish between the beloved text and the play, which are different entities. Because of this the piece is falsely premised. Please could they write a review of the play as a play instead of commenting on how affective the playwright is at transposing the story’s form.

    ‘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’. I, personally, was chilled and terrified.

    Genuinely one of the best student plays I have seen. If any of you read this, congratulations.

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  3. 30 Jan ’12 at 1:45 pm

    Hubris Nemesis

    Ben, you comment that the reviewer’s use of the word ‘nervousness’ is patronising but claim that she ‘has missed the intrinsic links between comedy and tragedy which so many great playwrights use’. You would only need a C at GCSE English to be aware of that. Smells like hypocrisy to me…

    Additionally, you comment that ‘The reviewer does not distinguish between the beloved text and the play, which are different entities’ to which I completely object. For an arts reviewer the adaptation and the original text are inextricably linked, particularly in this case where Orwell had a specific authorial agenda. The fact that the majority of the audience were laughing points to the conclusion that the production failed in conveying the horrors of the Russian revolution.

    ‘I, personally, was chilled and terrified’- You also seem aware that art criticism is subjective yet are shamelessly attempting to belittle somebody else’s sympathetic, personal response.

    On a more personal note, you insist that a play should be reviewed as a play but are clearly just here to defend one of your best friends. The fact that this could potentially be at the cost of somebody else’s journalistic confidence hasn’t seemed to have crossed your mind.

    ‘If any of you read this, congratulations’- Please, get over yourself.

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  4. What else would you expect from a sadomasochistic Peter Pan eh?

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  5. ‘Secondly, I have always seen this story as a tragedy; it demonstrates the inevitable intervention of selfishness that interrupts a fight for equality’

    It is actually a thinly veiled commentary on the formation of the Soviet Union, and the rise of a repressive regime out of what should have been a movement for a more equal and open regime Orwell himself being a socialist

    If it is decided that this is best presented with a slightly comedic edge then it is some major downfall for the entire play, in fact I have always found the imagery at the end of the book quite humorous

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