It’s been a long time since I read George Orwell’s Animal Farm, but the principles have remained with me over the years. Orwell’s talent for relating complex ideas in such a simple manner really shines in this book more than any of his other works, and in the Tree Folk Theatre’s production, I found the perfect staging for the story.
The production is kept fairly minimal in terms of set and costuming, with the scenery just giving a hint of the animals and their environment. It feels very classical in terms of staging – the bulk of the work in portraying the animals comes from the actor’s themselves, whose physicality throughout the show was simply rather splendid and wholly believable. Simple mask-like props are then added to great effect to complete the ‘transformation’ onstage of each and every creature. For the key moments, larger puppetry set-pieces helped convey the drama, with three or four people joining to represent the whole animal – as witnessed by Boxer’s fall.
By producing the piece as an acted-out narration, the show kept the feel of the storytelling ever present. It is perhaps the most effective way to deliver Orwell’s work when there is so much commentary in the book which serves as opposition to the dialogue within. The cast expertly switch between their animal roles and crucial points of narration with such ease, making it always clear as to their current characterisation. The narration being split among the cast kept the story flowing smoothly too.
The pacing of the show throughout is pitched just right by director William Vercelli. The first act comprising the rebellion and the setting up of Animal Farm has a gentle side to it, a little more humour, contrasting to the tense thrilling sequence of events in the second half.
The entire cast deserve commendation for their work in producing such a captivating piece of theatre, and for an ensemble so young, I’m sure they will all go on to achieve so much more. Special mention ought to go to Tom Manning – whose portrayal of Napoleon was just the right level of menacing for the part – and his sidekick Squealer, played to great effect by Mitch Howell. His characterisation was superb and kept the pace of the production continuing forward, especially in the second Act when he really came into his own. Additionally, Bethany Blake and Jerome Millington-Johnson as the two carthorses Clover and Boxer- with Boxer’s fierce loyalty and dedication, and Clover’s caring nature – provide the heart of the piece.
Animal Farm is running until 13th March at the Courtyard Theatre, Hoxton. Do catch this show if you can. See here for tickets.