REVIEW: Animal Farm at Bath’s Theater Royal, a stunning masterpiece of invention

THE key theme of George Orwell’s satirical novel, Animal Farm, is that “all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others”.

In this new production on tour at Bath’s Theater Royal until Saturday March 5, it seems just as relevant today as when it was written by the Democratic Socialist author in 1945.

Orwell’s Story tells the story of a group of farm animals who rebel against their human farmer, hoping to create a society where animals can be equal, free and happy.

Eventually, the rebellion is betrayed and the farm is left in as bad a state as before, under the dictatorship of a huge pig named Napoleon.

According to Orwell, its history reflects the events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917, the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas 2, and then the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union.

Given Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent invasion of neighboring Ukraine, the timing of the Children’s Theater Partnership production, in association with the Birmingham rep, at the Theater Royal this week couldn’t be more fitting.

Adapted and directed by Robert Icke, this dark, brooding take on Orwell’s classic brings the English GCSE text to life through a 14-actor cast and extensive use of puppets large and small.

Before the play even begins, a farmer carries animal carcasses across the stage, giving the audience, which included many young people, a taste of what is to come.

The main characters, the revolution-inciting male pig Old Major and then the rogue pigs Napoleon, Snowball and Squealer, come alive vividly as they gradually change to look like humans they once despised.

The gigantic heavy Boxer draft horse is described as loyal, kind, devoted, extremely strong, hardworking, although quite naive and gullible.

When Boxer is injured, Napoleon sells him to a local knackerman to buy himself some whisky, and Squealer gives a moving account falsifying Boxer’s death.

The horse Mollie is depicted as a self-centered, self-indulgent and conceited young white mare, quickly leaving the farm after the revolution, in a manner similar to those who left Russia after the fall of Tsar Nicholas 2.

Clover, portrayed as a sweet and caring mare, especially cares about Boxer, who often pushes himself too hard. She can read all the letters of the alphabet but does not know how to “put words together”.

However, she quickly seems to catch on to the tricks and devious schemes Napoleon and Squealer set up to make the pigs’ lives more comfortable as their status among farm animals becomes more than equal.

Benjamin, the donkey, is described as one of the oldest and wisest animals on the farm, and one of the few who can read properly. He is skeptical, capricious and cynical: his most frequent remark is: “Life will go on as it has always gone, that is to say badly.

Other farm animals include Moses the crow, Muriel the goat, sheep, cows, hens, rooster, ducks and geese, as well as Harold the pigeon, various dogs and a cat.

Icke has already adapted Orwell’s 1984 and gives Animal Farm a new spark by focusing on the minutiae of puppet movements, which at times express feeling and emotion in very imaginative ways.

The entire production walks a fine line between light-hearted humor and dark horror as the tide turns for farm animals and neighboring farmers regain control in collaboration with dictator Napoleon.

Icke brings Orwell’s original story to life, while allowing audiences to make their own comparisons to today’s political and social hypocrisy.

Puppet designer and director Toby Olie’s work on the production is an absolute masterpiece of creation and imaginative invention, with Boxer’s enormous and awe-inspiring presence dominating the set.

The control the puppeteers have over their animals is imaginative and masterful with even the smallest movements played out, while sound designer Tom Gibbons and lighting director Jon Clark increase the tension and drama of the scenes using musical motifs. and flashing images.

Interestingly, while the actors and puppeteers on stage make animal noises, the voices of the main characters were recorded by ten well-known actors, including Robert Glenister, David Rintoul and Juliet Stevenson.

This production is completely spellbinding and absolutely breathtaking. I’ve never seen anything like it before and it’s definitely worth a visit.

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