Robert Icke’s stage adaptation of George Orwell’s 1945 fable ‘Animal Farm’ is in Canterbury this week, bringing one of the most significant books of the twentieth century to Kent. Until fairly recently I had not read the 100-page novel, wrongly assuming that I would find the text dense and the themes distressing. It is thanks to a press night invitation from The Marlowe Theatre that I finally stopped being so stubborn and gave Animal Farm a try. I was intrigued to see the puppetry required for the stage interpretation and wanted to review the piece from a staging perspective, but did not feel I could attend the press night without having a better understanding of the story and the political importance of the novel. This ended up being a wise decision as the stage interpretation was incredibly thought-provoking and the background knowledge that I had gained from reading the book allowed me to understand the piece of theatre on a deeper level.
Animal Farm is at The Marlowe Theatre from Tuesday 3rd to Saturday 7th May. The press night was held on Tuesday evening and the performance was very popular, largely due to the attendance of school groups. It was refreshing to see so many students have the opportunity to watch an adaptation of Orwell’s renowned text. Seeing a moral-focused story live can really put the original literary work into perspective, so I can only begin to imagine the positive impact that this interpretation of Animal Farm will have on the students’ learning.
Covering topics such as politics, equality and class, the happenings at Animal Farm are a metaphor for the 1917 Russian revolution and the events that followed, challenging political decision-making of the time and its impact on society. During the performance, I could not help but notice how timeless the story is and how it could represent many moments in history. It is no wonder that Animal Farm feels like a contemporary production, despite its post-war origins.
It goes without saying that Animal Farm is a dark and sombre tale and this was reflected in the choice of sets for the adaptation. Most of the scenes took place in the barn, with its textured walls, roof, expansive floor for the animals to gather and dark backdrop. A simple set that when combined with spot lighting, helped generate a tense atmosphere for the exchanges at the community meetings.
What wowed me however was the miniature sets used to depict Snowball’s close escape and Boxer’s departure from the farm. Little farm houses and buildings had been created for the production and positioned in a row, with puppeteers controlling the movement of tiny puppets between them. This was really clever and unexpected, showcasing the diversity of the set designer’s talents and providing a change of pace between the scenes.
Years ago I remember being fascinated by the trailer for War Horse, marvelling at the mechanics behind the horse. The puppetry in Animal Farm was equally as mesmerising, from the birds that ‘flew’ across the stage to the pigs with their human-controlled hind legs. The principal characters of Napoleon, Snowball and Squealer were each controlled by two puppet operators, with one actor responsible for the facial expressions and the other in charge of the overall body movements. It was amazing to see how the pairs of actors blended with their puppets, focusing audience attention away from themselves as people and instead towards the puppet designers’ creations.
Seeing yesterday’s performance of Animal Farm* definitely helped me visualise the events that occurred in the novel. The intensity of the play had me asking my husband a number of questions as we left the theatre, as I tried to interpret every detail of what I had just watched. The puppeteers were like magicians, majestically moving the animals around the stage and the sets that paired with them were extremely unique. I was thoroughly impressed by the cast and creative team’s recreation of Animal Farm, bringing Orwell’s incomparable work to life. The play is at The Marlowe Theatre until Saturday and if you have ever contemplated seeing the story live in the theatre, definitely seize the opportunity whilst it is still in Kent.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx
*Our tickets and programme for Animal Farm were gifted in exchange for a review of the performance.