Royal & Derngate, Northampton – until 22 May 2021
Reviewed by Megan Raynor
Animal Farm at the Royal & Derngate. A new adaptation by Tatty Hennessy directed by Ed Stambollouian and performed by the 2020 National Youth Theatre Rep Company.
George Orwell’s 1945 story of Animal Farm is one familiar to many, I consumed the story from a battered copy in an English GCSE lesson but this revival felt like witnessing the horror and the magic of the story for the first time all over again.
The animals of the seemingly idyllic Manor Farm have reached the end of their tether, they have reached the limit of the mistreatment they can endure. Joining forces, they rise and conquer – overthrowing their two-legged ruler and vouching for a new future of unity and fairness. This proposed equality soon begins to wear, with some much aware of their demise than others. The future of peace and prosperity soon gives way to a life of tyranny, bloodshed and a hierarchy of power – framed as a better life for all.
Adapted by political playwright Tatty Hennessy this script took on a new life, the core heart of the story intact but approached with the grit, passion and perspective of our current political and societal climate. For this production to emerge after a year of theatre in the dark felt truly magical and scarily relevant but with the scope to interpret the inequality and frustration with your own perspectives of societies structures. The dystopian-esque set and costume by Jasmine Swan aided this sense of time and place ambiguity while still giving us subtle nods to the original historical communism context. I was grateful to not see curly tails and snouts too, the costume design providing playful and visually pleasing indicators of species. The colour palette and design of the performance as a whole was a visual feast.
The 16 strong cast brought such electrifying energy and heart to the motley crew of creatures. Embodying the characters with the perfect combination of animalistic realism while keeping those traits authentic to human experience. Particular mention needs to be made to Connor Crawford’s deliciously terrifying Farmer Jones which will no doubt be keeping me awake at night for some time. The movement and physical sequences (Choreography by Vicki Igbokwe and Fight Direction by Enric Ortuño) carried such contrasting power and playfulness, you could just feel the fire and unity of the cast throughout.
I ,for one, am incredibly grateful that I was introduced back into theatre with this powerhouse of a piece, the future of theatre is in safe hands with this cast of incredible creatives. Gritty, dynamic, hilarious and for a play about animals – a bucket load of humanity.
Animal Farm is on at The Royal and Derngate until the 22nd of May followed by the company’s performance of Othello from the 25th-29th of May. The two productions will continue their run to The Workshop Theatre, Soulton Hall and Bolsover Castle. I also just want to take a moment to thank the team at Royal and Derngate for their warm and safe welcoming back to the theatre.