Theatre review: Animal Farm

Our theatre reviewer, Sam Sims, shares his thoughts on Animal Farm at Hull Truck Theatre.

Pamela Raith Photography

Whilst the historical context of George Orwell’s startling 1945 book, Animal Farm may no longer be relevant today, nearly 80 years later, its themes undoubtedly still are. In fact, it’s unlikely that they, for better or worse, will ever not be of relevance. 

A critique of the history and narrative of the Russian Revolution, the book shows us a world in which a group of farm animals decide to overthrow their captor – the farmer, Mr Jones. Their intention in doing so, is to create an equal society, one free of dominance, a society where pigs, horses, sheep et al can live in harmony. It is a beautiful sentiment set out by the passionate and idealistic Old Major at the beginning of the story but one that quickly becomes null and void. The pigs rise up and become the ruling party, using manipulation, gas-lighting and murder to get there.

Pamela Raith Photography

A new stage adaptation of Animal Farma co-production between Hull Truck, Octagon and Bolton and Derby theatres, brings the story to life, to audiences new and old. It is a stark, industrial-looking show, effective in its simplicity. Ciarán Bagnall’s set design isn’t particularly ambitious – the characters trot and gallop around and on a small, raised wooden platform, used to signify the pigs’ dominance over the other animals, but it conveys what it sets out to – a cold, stark reality in complete contrast to the utopia Old Major envisioned.

Most effective are the large, metal ‘doors’ that are used predominantly as blank canvases on which to write (and amend) the original commandments. These are scrawled messily in glow in the dark paint and look brilliant. The set is totally lacking in identity, demonstrating that this story is applicable to any point in history – or indeed the future.

The characters too, are almost free of any identity, bar some great-looking head-pieces by Sarah Worrall. They wear neutral coloured boiler suits by costume designer, Su Newell, blending into one another and their surroundings. Why would they look any different? They’re merely cogs in an inescapable machine. The performances all work well, though the characters being literal animals one minute – mannerisms and all, then speaking and acting like humans the next, was often quite jarring. 

Does this production bring anything new to the world of Animal Farm? Not particularly, but it adequately tells the story and looks great. Its themes are always going to be chilling, especially now, in the UK where many people feel manipulated and completely exhausted by those that rule the country. But every part of the world is going to feel its relevance and unfortunately that will probably be the case for the next 80 years – and counting.

[Sam Sims – Theatre reviewer]

Animal Farm runs at Hull truck Theatre until Saturday 13 April 2024.