Tuesday, September 26

Animal Farm – Liverpool Playhouse

In a feat of technical brilliance and creativity, this show makes the impossible possible through exceptional puppetry and characterisation. A contemporary re-imagining of George Orwell’s classic text, this adaptation does not disappoint.

Charting the rise of a fictional revolution and its aftermath, the plot of Animal Farm is just as relevant now as it was when first published, if not more so. Adults and children over 11 years are best-placed to engage with this experience. This is not a tale for the feint-hearted.

We begin with a bloodied farmer carrying carcasses across the stage, going about his daily business on Manor Farm. It quickly becomes apparent he’s not a pleasant character. The animals are scared when he’s around, treated as work units and considered expendable when they can no longer make money for him.

When Old Major the prize boar says he’s had a dream of freedom – freedom from humans – the animals listen with intent. Old Major speaks of a world after he’s gone where humans will no longer be using animals and where all will live together peacefully, a utopia epitomised in the rousing hymn-like song ‘Beasts of England’. A few days later he is no more, and the revolution is triggered.

Will Old Major’s harmonious world be realised?

Photography: Manuel Harlen

True to the original and peppered with poignant moments, there are exiled pigs, executed sheep and conned horses as we follow post-revolutionary events. Directed by Robert Icke (who co-adapted and directed 1984 for the West End and Broadway) this production of Animal Farm retains the distinctly dark dystopian feel of Orwell’s original work.

One of the standout elements is the use of digital technology to create an atmosphere of action – subtitles on a screen above the main stage move the audience through time periods and place them in context. When deaths happen, the sound of a church bell gong sounds in time to mini-memorial snippets displayed above, placing the audience within the plotline itself; it gives a harrowing sense of being part of plot.

The scripting for this production evolves subtly. At the beginning, the animals have some light-hearted interactions and there are some humorous moments (accessible to children and adults alike) but post-revolution, we slowly see this disappear. The supporting musical elements mirror this change in key. The way the animals carry themselves also alters.

The puppetry by Toby Olié (whose credits include War Horse, Running Wild and Goodnight Mister Tom) and designing by four-time Olivier award-winner Bunny Christie is exceptional. Realistic and agile, puppets are expertly manoeuvred around the stage. The mixture of using stage-size animals and miniature animals also adds a valuable dimension for the audience and is innovative, creating depth to move the audience between scenes and times.

If you’re looking for a theatre show that offers an experience as well as a storyline, you’ll find Animal Farm a worthy investment. It provokes thought, entertains and showcases technical brilliance.

Animal Farm is showing at the Liverpool Playhouse from April 26th – 30th 2022. Get your tickets at https://www.everymanplayhouse.com/whats-on/animal-farm

Reviewer: Ezzy LaBelle

Reviewed: 26th April 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★