A theatrical piece of theatre with remarkable performances, aided by good direction, an excellent design, and a great script. What’s not to like? Absolutely nothing.
Even if you know the story well, and George Orwell’s novel on which this Bolton Octagon production is based is one of the most famous books of the 20th century, it is a pleasure to watch how the team make Animal Farm come to life. After all, the characters are animals, even the audience.
From the moment the lights go down – with a bang – and the mobile phone announcement comes on, you know you’re in for a discomfiting evening. Ian Wooldridge’s adaptation is faithful to the original, an allegory about the Russian revolution and the corruption of its ideals with the rise of Stalin, told through the revolt of the animals at Manor Farm against their living conditions. They expel Farmer Jones and change the name to Animal Farm.
The vision for change comes from Old Major, the great white boar, played by Polly Lister who makes us believe in him completely. He dies, the revolution happens, and the pigs take the lead in organisation. The seven maxims of the revolution are painted on the walls of the farm, most famously ‘All Animals Are Equal’, and a new life begins. But not for long.
Samater Ahmed gives us a fine Snowball, the clever pig who has worked out how to build a windmill to bring electricity and other comforts to the animals. But he is opposed by the wily Napoleon, a scheming and completely believable Ida Regan, and her sidekick Squealer who it turns out has a talent for spinning an idea on its head, played eagerly by Killian MacArdle.
The other animals are equally good. Sam Black plays a wonderful carthorse called Boxer for all he’s worth while Boxer’s best friend Clover, a lady carthorse, played again by Lister, has a tender moment with Boxer which made the audience moan. A delightful but excessively vain mare, Mollie, is played in exactly the right way by Amy Drake, who then gives us Moses the revivalist raven with all the panache of Elvis. And Benjamin the donkey, sharply portrayed by Ahmed, is so old that he remembers everything that’s happened, which is dangerous. Especially when the seven maxims of the revolution are altered one by one. ‘All Animals Are Equal, But Some Are More Equal Than Others.’
And that’s the point, really. How much the Russian revolution means to us now, in the current political climate, is difficult to assess. But the truth that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely is everywhere to be seen, and role of the spin doctor has never been more important. Macardle’s Squealer exemplifies that. The only defence is truth, and the historical record. If we forget, if we are not taught how we got to where we are now, everything will seem inevitable and they will have won.
Main image: Pamela Raith Photography
Animal Farm is at Bolton Octagon until February 24, 2024 and then on tour to Derby Theatre and Hull Truck. For more information, click here.