Animal Farm at Northern Stage

Cuts of corruption

Northern Stage’s production of Animal farm is engaging, entertaining and eerily contemporary. Most people know the story. The enslaved animals take over Manor Farm rising up against their cruel drunken human master and vow to run the farm themselves for their own mutual benefit. The communist ideals expounded by Old Major the boar are topped by the most important commandment of all. ‘All animals are equal’

Minutes of the previous meeting…

It is all looking hopeful. The animals joyfully face their bright new future and even have a rallying song ‘Beasts of England.’ The pigs, being the cleverest of the animals naturally take the lead. At first there are democratic meetings to decide things and the brave pig Snowball fights back the intruding humans at the battle of the Cowshed. Everyone works hard, no one more so than Boxer the horse.

Comrade Boxer

Things begin to change however and the pigs start to enjoy the rewards of power just a little too much. Despite commandments to the contrary they start sleeping in beds, eating all the best food, wearing clothes and drinking alcohol. They fool the less clever animals with propaganda and spin and because the other animals cannot really remember what was promised originally and not many of them can read. They do not challenge or question things and the pigs’ power and manipulation of the other animals escalates. Snowball proposes modernisation and the building of a windmill to create electricity which does not suit the agenda of the lead pig Napoleon who likes things just the way they are. Snowball is attacked and expelled from Animal Farm. Snowball is then demonised and all things bad that happen afterwards are blamed on this unfortunate scape pig.

 

Pigs in charge

Does it remind you of anything?
Shouldn’t we be reducing carbon emissions to save the planet? Doesn’t suit big corporations – doesn’t happen. Shouldn’t we ban over the counter firearms in the US as there as mass shootings of innocent people all the time? Doesn’t suit the rifle association, it doesn’t happen.
Isn’t politics the necessary catalyst for change? Or is it really the opposite, and merely a vehicle for vested interests to retain the status quo?
Sorry, getting carried away.
Orwell wrote 1984 a few years after Animal Farm was published and you can see him testing out some of the ideas in this story which he then developed in his most famous novel. In some ways Animal Farm is a cleverer piece of work as it can be read as a moral animal tale and is more accessible to a wider audience than 1984, hence its inclusion on many a school syllabus.

Everything is getting better – isn’t it?

When William Wyn Davies as the oily Squealer, Napoleon’s sidekick, starts reeling off the propaganda about everything improving by 200% it does make you think of out government and the confusing statistics we are continually presented with. Even a local organisation I’ve been working for with the most unhappy workforce I’ve ever come across, were shouting loudly about the fantastic satisfaction results of their recent staff survey. If you say it loud enough, someone will believe it!
The young cast of the play were smashing. The North Project is an opportunity for emerging actors to develop their skills, and skills they certainly have.

 

Things aren’t going well for Animal Farm

The company are all versatile and play different characters with ease. There were no animal masks or funny faces but you quickly worked out who was who and accepted them as their animal counterparts. I liked the inclusion of some live music and a bit of dance movement – this always adds to the theatrical experience in my view.

For now..

My favourite was probably Millie Harris who was Snowball and Benjamin the donkey. She was convincingly pugilistic at the battle of the cowshed – a well choreographed scrap I thought. And I loved her Yorkshire Benjamin the donkey and in particular the bit were she did some donkey dancing which was very amusing indeed.
Moses the tame Raven who spreads stories of Sugarcandy Mountain, the paradise to which animals supposedly go when they die, shows us how religion can pacify the oppressed. I think its TV they use now.
Anyhow – don’t stay in and watch the box, but try a bit of quality thought provoking live theatre in Newcastle – you’ll be glad you did.

 

Sugar Candy Mountain – isn’t that Cloughs in Heaton?

Cast photos by Topher McGillis