A Children’s Theatre Partnership production in association with Birmingham Rep present a double 5-star performance of ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell.
Based on Orwell’s 1945 book which tells the story of a group of farm animals who start a revolution against their human farmer who is more interested in the money than looking after the animals. The animals group together, oust the farmer and hope to create a farm where everyone can be equal, free, happy and run it themselves. Their dream of a better future inspires the revolution. As the days, weeks, months and years pass, their dream of a better future is not going the way they thought…
This is a thought provoking story and makes you think about human power structures, ideologies and whether or not they can actually work. However, the timing of this piece with what is going on in the world couldn’t make it more poignant and hit home even more. It’s an exceptionally powerful piece which triggers all emotions.
It’s a classic story, however this adaptation is phenomenal. The use of puppetry for the farm animals is stunning. The set, lighting, sound… everything is precisely created to maximise, not only the impactful nature of the morals within the story, but also the human emotions.
The puppets, almost animatronics although all human powered, were life-sized with an incredible level of attention to detail as to how they move, and talk. There was a huge cart horse, a cow, a cat, a dog, a goat, pigs, sheep, pigeons, chickens and other delightful farm animals. Puppetry Designer and Director Toby Olié wanted to make sure there was a maximum range of articulation, he studied the anatomy and the physical language of the animal particularly the emotional indicators like the ears, or tail and the difference in gaits. This completely brought them to life.
There are over 30 animals/puppets with only 14 operators, all dressed in black, unless their legs were part of the animal they were moving. The puppeteers successfully carried out a challenging task as all the voice work was pre-recorded and therefore their timings were critical. The larger animals needed team work as there were more than one puppeteer, what these guys achieved was incredible.
The set was simple yet highly effective, as it’s set on a farm, the majority of scenes were in the barn. The barn walls and doors were on a sliding frame unit which allowed very quick scene changes. Then we had the distance chase scenes where everything was in miniature to show the scale. There are many highlights and I can’t mention them all however I loved when Boxer smashed through the barn doors.
The lighting and sound couldn’t have been more integral to a theatre production. Again, exceptional timing and precision to give the audience full impact of the ongoing scenes and making us believe in the animals.
There is so much to talk about with this performance, yet I have run out of words already. There is humour in this dark story, there is death, there is sadness, there is a reflection of human nature and as well as being full of emotions as the play ends, you are left with plenty to think about.
Adapted and directed by Robert Icke
Set & Costume Designer Bunny Christie
Sound Designer & Music Tom Gibbons
This review first appeared on GrapevineLIVE
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan