Review by Hilary Dawes
Skilfully adapted for the stage by Ian Wooldridge and directed by Iqbal Kahn, this powerful re-telling of George Orwell’s chilling and timeless classic is brought vividly to life in this gripping new production, and carries a theme as relevant today as when the novel was first published almost 80 years ago.
When the downtrodden animals of Manor Farm overthrow their master, they imagine it is the beginning of a new life of freedom and equality. However, over time, a cunning and brutal elite develops amongst them, instigated by the pigs Napoleon and Snowball, who gradually take control. Soon, as the farmyard hierarchy develops, the other animals discover that they are not all as equal as they once thought.
An incredibly talented and strong cast brought the farmyard characters convincingly to life, with realistic and believable animal movements and sounds. Polly Lister gave a superlative performance as Old Major, as she rallied the animals to revolt against their master, and later with her moving portrayal of the old horse Clover, often suspecting the pigs of violating one or other of their own rules, but afraid to express her concerns. Gentle carthorse Boxer was touchingly played by Sam Black and we felt for the animal, with his constant maxim “I must work harder”. The vain and coquettish pony Mollie was played to perfection by Amy Drake who also relished her role as tame raven Moses. Ida Regan gave an excellent performance, playing Napoleon with a quietly calculating and menacing air, and her propagandist Squealer was brilliantly performed by Killian Macardle, managing to engage the audience with comedic asides and knowing looks. Snowball was played by Samater Ahmed who also gave a fine portrayal of Benjamin, the old donkey refusing to feel inspired by the Rebellion.
Praise must go to the creative team who worked their magic in this atmospheric and engrossing production. Lighting and set designer Ciarán Bagnall created a minimal, yet effective set, evoking the feel of the farmyard, with revolving panels serving as barn walls, allowing the characters to easily enter and leave the stage, and simple planks eventually evolving into windmill sails. Composer Dylan Towley and Sound Designer Gerry Marsden created a realistic and evocative soundscape, whilst the authentic animal movements were choreographed by movement director Shelley Evan Haden, and their characters instantly recognisable by simple headdresses, devised by costume designer Su Newell.
Powerful and thought-provoking, this must-watch production is running at the Octagon Bolton until 24 February 2024