DramaNorth WestReview

Animal Farm – Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Reviewer: John McRoberts

Writer: George Orwell

Adaptor: Ian Wooldridge

Director: Iqbal Kahn

George Orwell’s famous allegory of Stalinist Russia could be a tale of many countries currently operating around the world at this very time, it’s very much a ‘fairy tale’ of now as much as it was when it was first written. Animal Farm, is at its heart, a biting political satire. One that holds a mirror to political gaslighting and the art form of political spin that many governments use daily. The ever-changing goalposts that get moved and changed on a whim to suit whatever narrative needs to be pushed at that moment – so with the current political climate it only seems right that a revival should be taking place.

On Manor Farm, a group of animals rebel against their human farmer seeking a utopian society based on equality and fairness. Led by the pigs, particularly Napoleon (Ida Regan) and Snowball (Samater Ahmed) the animals establish their own rules and governance. However, as the pigs consolidate power, they become corrupt, mirroring the oppressive humans they overthrew. Ian Wooldridge’s 90-minute adaptation of Orwell’s novel (first performed over 40 years ago), keeps much of the book intact, although this adaptation often falls into the trap of becoming very text-heavy, especially during the opening 10 minutes – something with which Iqbal Kahn’s physical theatre-based production could have easily fixed with more show and less tell.

Kahn’s concept of the technological abattoir while providing a strong visual and atmospheric dystopian backdrop (thanks to Ciarán Bagnall’s impressive and oppressively small set design) doesn’t completely feel connected to the source material and certain ideas become muddy and confusing – including a rather dud puppetry moment at the very end of the production.

The ensemble of six actors, many of whom multi-role, work hard bringing the animals to life, however, one felt that more could have been made to bring each animal to life (Shelly Eva Haden’s movement direction feeling a little too safe.) That said there are some strong performances Sam Black’s Boxer is delightful with his Scottish lilt bringing some melody to the dialogue and Amy Drake provides boundless energy as the bright and enthusiastic Molly. There is an understated performance by Regan as Napoleon, more akin to a weaselly Sunak than a powerful Putin which bounces well against the quick-thinking deviousness of Killian Macardle’s Squealer. One questions the choice of not having the cast permanently mic’d throughout, as the reliance on four rifle mics hanging down means (at least where we were sat) some of the dialogue especially during louder moments in the show was lost in a smorgasbord of sound.

This revival might not be perfect but the strong performances and the story itself is more than enough to ensure you have an enjoyable yet thought-provoking night at the theatre.

Runs until 24 Feb 2024


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The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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