DTR - Reviews of Animal Farm

Animal Farm

Thu 24th – Sat 26th November 2011

reviews

Michelle Newbold

at 22:35 on 24th Nov 2011

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DST students brought George Orwell’s classic to life last night in their interpretation of ‘Animal Farm’. Directed by Hannah Brennan, the play allegorised the events of the Russian revolution, a task made more difficult by the fact that the story was originally written as a novel, and not as a play. This was at times quite obvious – the lengthy monologues were in this case clearly designed for print, and not for the stage. This cannot be blamed on the cast, however, as the theatre adaptation was written by Ian Woolridge. Overall, it was a commendable effort by both cast and production team to animate and simplify this complex story in a way suitable for the theatre.

Any discrepancies between novel and drama were more than made up for by acting talent. Jordan Millican was a highly convincing Napoleon, and he portrayed the leader’s quiet manipulation with admirable faithfulness to the novel. Jenny Hobbiss was equally believable, first as Mr Jones and then later as Squealer, Napoleon’s devoted servant. In Orwell’s novel, Squealer was intended to represent Russian propaganda, and Hobbiss’ interpretation of the part was brilliantly grovelling and slimy. Ben Naunton-Davies’ portrayal of Moses, the prophetic raven, also deserves a mention here, as his extolling of Heaven – or ‘Sugarcandy Mountain’ in Orwell’s novel – was unwaveringly enthusiastic. Nick Rooney’s portrayal of Boxer, the ever-exploited but ever-hopeful old horse, was equally praiseworthy. Orwell originally intended for Boxer to represent the working class, an allegory which Rooney carried off with ease.

Music and props were on the whole used well; a piano – played by Millican – provided light melodies at appropriate times, while fake pig-snouts were cleverly employed to clarify the escalating status of the pigs in comparison to the other animals. There were a few questionable decisions – at one point utter silence descended onstage, leaving the audience to wonder whether or not this was supposed to happen! One scene was also conducted completely in the dark, save for the light of four torches. While this was obviously intended to emphasise the vulnerability of the animals at night-time, the result was not quite as effective as was perhaps hoped, with audience members straining to work out which character was which.

The production team of ‘Animal Farm’ took on a very challenging task in portraying such a complex novel on the stage, and although there were a few snags, the difficulty of that task must not be ignored. Overall, the actors’ performances and the producers’ decisions were commendable; the audience watched with interest as the novel’s famous message was acted out before them: “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.

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Helena Marcelle Baker

at 00:11 on 25th Nov 2011

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Like all slightly pretentious aspiring writers I am a little obsessed with George Orwell, so upon hearing that Hild Bede would be staging his iconic novel ‘Animal Farm’, my reaction was elation tinged with a touch of trepidation.

It was an incredibly brave decision from first time Durham director Hannah Bronnan to adapt the iconic animal centred novel into a play with human actors. And I have to admit that the first couple of scenes seemed a little confused. There was an over use of narration that seemed to be inspired by CBeebies. Furthermore, an intimate cast was playing what really called for an ensemble. Frankly understanding which actor was playing what animal at a specific moment in time was something of a trial throughout the entire show. In the formative scenes the play felt essentially like a clumsy adaption. I’m not entirely sure that the incredibly long moment of silence just before a key event worked as a dramatic device, the audience just seemed a tad confused.

Whilst these problems cast a slight shadow over the first couple of scenes, there were essentially eclipsed by the many moments that were both inspiring and daring. Particularly impressive was the acting of Jenny Hobiss who played Squealar. Playing a strong character many amateur actors simply become dramatic parodies of themselves, instead Hobiss played Squealar with a nuance and finesse that was incredibly affecting.

The director’s use of the cast like a Greek chorus worked remarkably well in creating an atmosphere of seduction by a devotion to animalism. I was also truly impressed by the cast’s tenacity in expressing themselves beyond the confines of the stage. The interaction with the audience and the mini-dramas that played out whilst events unfolded on stage added a complexity to the performance that befitted Orwell’s classic. In fact the frankly depressing Cademon Hall (sorry Hild Bede) suddenly became, at least in sentiment, an extension of Animal Farm. The audience was involved in the play, almost like a silent chorus.

This allowed for an added poignancy to an ending which I have no desire to ruin, but that was both beautiful and haunting. It was a testament to both the acting skills of the cast and the imagination of the director and producer.

Overall the play succeeded in the director’s desire ‘to push boundaries.’ The use of interactive theatre transformed the play from the generic student standard to an altogether more an avant-garde production. It was a relatable and haunting piece of theatre, and performed a great service to my beloved Orwell.

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Comments

Ollie Lansdowne; 25th Nov 2011; 11:39:03

I don't often attend the theatre, and I don't pretend to be an expert when it comes to such matters, but in my mind this is seriously something to go to. I was captivated for its entire duration. My congratulations go to everyone who was involved, it blew me away.

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