Animal Farm Review – Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool

Animal Farm 2022
Image Source: Playhouse Theatre

Show: Animal Farm
Location: Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool
Date: Tuesday April 26 2022
Time: 19.30
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Age Rating: 11+
Producer: The Children’s Theatre Partnership
Writer: Robert Icke
Director: Robert Icke
Designer: Bunny Christie
Puppetry: Toby Olié

Animal Farm at Liverpool‘s Playhouse Theatre is a magical and meaningful production which draws out so many parallels with life today, 80 years on, there are nearly as many lines as those spoken by the excellent cast. In other words, there are so many lessons to learn from the iconic tale of animals taking over. Near as dammit, the lunatics running the asylum, with their delusional ideas and grandiose so-called victories.

But puppets…well now, such is the level of sophistication that although an enormous pig tottering on its back trotters should appear ludicrous, it is quite unsettling, almost terrifying. And all the creatures satisfy sight and sound so well, you can almost smell and touch them. Everything is ingeniously put together, perfectly enhanced by the brilliant use of lighting and the variety of music, whether the action is menacing or moving or comical, including opera for moments of high drama, and ending with something which sounds distinctly Russian.

Description Of Animal Farm

The opening scene is a tableau reminiscent of an old Master, the animals gathered around to heed the words of the pig, Old Major. It’s a dog’s life on Mr Jones’s Manor Farm. All the animals receive such bad treatment that when he preaches revolution, they’re immediate converts. After all, rebellion always entices with the promise of a better life: the vision. They go ahead even though he is no longer there to lead them, left to the tender mercies of Snowball (sadly not re-named Snowflake) and Napoleon. The manifesto, or 8 Commandants, may start off as laudable but as time goes on, the rules are re-written and the goalposts moved, all over the place… sounds familiar?

The stage is minimally decorated because there’s such a large cast – and very large creatures, with some of the more dramatic scenes foregrounded, then the perspective shifted so as to get the bigger picture with the action continuing at the back in miniature, for example, Snowball pursued through the village by Napoleon’s vicious guard dogs.

This is further enhanced by being interspersed by more tableaux, usually the increasingly acrimonious meetings, which slowly demonstrate that all animals certainly are not equal. Similarly, the gruesome is offset by humour in a clever mix; although the chickens are un-named in the book (somehow, calling a hen Barbara seems hilarious) yet they are the first to oppose Napoleon when he intends to barter their eggs, just as the farmer used to steal them to sell. Likewise, Mollie, the yes…and no mare may appear dense but is smart enough to make her getaway.

Analysis Of Animal Farm

The puppets and puppeteers are a sight to behold, the animals so realistic, with seemingly a flick of a finger, and handled so well, especially when addressing the audience. It appears like a cast of thousands. I wish I could name them all, but there isn’t enough space. Voice actors include Robert Glenister, Heather Long, David Rintoul and Juliet Stephenson. Jonathan Dryden Taylor does a good job as Farmer Jones, whether thuggish or puzzled.

The revolution gets off to an amusing start when he settles down one evening. Only to receive gaslighting by the chickens and the cat playing tricks on him. But the villain of the piece is even more despicable than the power-hungry Napoleon. That is the second-in-command, Squealer, with her insidious propaganda. In huge contrast, comes Boxer. He’s the magnificent, noble but stubbornly loyal hard-working carthorse. And he makes a tremendous first impression by crashing onto the stage in the first clash with the humans.

Subtext sets the time and place, and provides a long, long roll call of the animals and how they died: starved, executed for treason; in battle. Moses the raven may be untrustworthy but he departs this mortal coil in a most affecting way. Yet this is curiously denied to Boxer, who Napoleon betrays in an underplayed manner. However, the rooster, the carthorse’s alarm clock, deserves the spotlight for its appearance, and although the cat’s movements are not as entirely convincing as its nature, Bluebell the dog is virtually life-like. The few survivors include the canny Scouse goat and Clover the cow, and the play ends with her calf, Daisy, demanding answers.

Summary Of Animal Farm

The question is, would you go to see this play? And the answer’s a resounding yes. The Children’s Theatre Partnership aims to inspire a lifelong love of theatre, and this should do it – no mistake.

Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good