This well-known story based on the book by George Orwell, studied by generations at school has taken to the stage in Birmingham.
From the moment you walk into the auditorium you can tell this isn’t a happy go lucky play. The stage has a dark industrial feel too it, the pre-show action on stage reinforces the tone even further.
Animal Farm tells the tale of animals on a farm who dream of days of freedom from their human oppressors. Following a stirring speech from an old pig, they plan a revolution. We follow their journey as all their best laid plans and intentions start to fade.
Anyone who studied this at school will probably remember the story revolves round political ideals, leadership and control of the masses. This production manages to bring the story to life in a very visual way. There are moments that have a cinematic feel to them, slow motion explosions, Matrix style fight scenes where the characters freeze, and the camera moves round and the entrance of Boxer the work horse. The lighting is exquisite making the most of an almost blank stage to create stunning effects that add as much to the story as the words and actions. While not a light-hearted topic there are moments of relief with forgetful chickens and excitable sheep.
The stars of the show are the puppets and their puppeteers. These are no glove puppets, they are beautifully detailed, larger than life fantastic creations. Although the back legs of some animals are the human legs of its operator and you can see the puppeteers, as with many shows like this, you soon disregard them and see a stage full of animals. The skills of the puppeteers are not to be overlooked, they masterfully capture the characters of the animals through their controls, none of the puppets have animated faces, all the emotion is conveyed by the movements. With a limited number of puppeteers, they all take on multiple characters ranging from small doves to the huge work horse, Boxer.
Using puppets allows other creative means to depict scenes that would be difficult in a theatre. The use of small houses, animals and 4x4s is an inspired way to move the story along in a visual way rather than having to narrate it. Another key feature is the screen at the top of the stage that gives a timeline for the action, without this the timescale of events would not be quite so clear.
This production was a perfect refresher of a tale part remembered. Looking at it again as an adult opened my eyes to some of the plot points. Time after time the stage was a feast for the eyes, the puppets and lighting look amazing. It will be a good introduction to those new to the story and an equally to those for who Animal Farm is an old favourite.
Animal Farm runs until 5th February 2022 at The Rep, Birmingham. https://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/whats-on/animal-farm/
Reviewer: Annette Nuttall
Reviewed: 27th January 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★