Picture: Pamela Raith

Animal Farm

Derby Theatre


Orwell wrote this, his eponymous novel, in 1944 when the UK and US were allies with the Soviet Union. It is a political satire on Communist totalitarianism , the events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917, and then on into the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union.

Alongside his own 1984, and Huxley’s Brave New World, it stands as an unique political vision of a dystopian future. An allegory whose imagery has endured and become embedded into our political culture, language and discourse.

This production, directed by Iqbal Khan arrives from the Octagon theatre Bolton, before proceeding to Hull. At a time when politics is in disarray in the Middle East, and the UK and USA are in Election years its revival could not be more timeous.

The text has been widely used in secondary schools for exam purposes for over fifty years. It is among the best known works of English fiction. Khan wisely eschews making any significant changes to the story. However its presentation is a different matter. Should the animal character simply be offered as human? Or should they appear as animals? Khan settles for head dresses and porcine movement whose anthropomorphism does not always convince.

The opening sequence of the pigs take over of Farmer Jones’ farm is noisy, and powerful, the actors as animals emerging from stalls on a single set designed by Ciarán Bagnall which works well, offering an altar- like centrepiece. I found the anachronistic use of surveillance- cameras, borrowed from the later 1984 jarring.

Much of the dialogue is lifted from the novel which was not written as a play. Eighty years on Orwell’s grasp of the vicissitudes of politics remains painfully accurate, although the Right Wing's appropriation of aspects of Communist Totalitarianism was not anticipated.

A cast of six combine animal movement with stirring human speeches, often addressing the audience directly, and often amusingly , the light touch welcome amidst the dour political message.

Sam Black, as Boxer the cart horse, provides an Everyman figure initially credulous, then incredulous at what unfolds before him. Ida Regan’s Napoleon is superb, surely inspired by Liz Truss. Power mad and unscrupulous her six principles are literally rewritten as the story unfolds

Divided into two acts of 55 and 35 minutes the production is potent and punchy, its tragic denouement inevitable

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

Animal farm continues at Derby until 16th March and finishes in Hull the following week.

Gary Longden


Index page Derby Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre