Review: Animal Farm, Theatre Royal
This production of the famous George Orwell fable captivated us from start to finish with phenomenal puppetry
George Orwell’s timeless tale tells the story of a revolution and its aftermath. The animals of Manor Farm drive out the farmer to run the farm themselves and every animal is promised freedom – but equality doesn’t last long (just ask Napoleon). Following the story we know in most parts (although there are a few different animals and some name changes), this show gives the tale the respect it deserves with fantastically animated and intricately-made life-like puppets (more than 30 of them in fact).
We headed to the theatre for the opening performance and certainly weren’t disappointed, and the lack of interval meant we never lost our focus on the performance.
Images of Toby’s puppets have been circulating social media over the last few weeks but it’s only in person that you can truly appreciate how intricate they really are. Each groove in the material allows the puppeteers to move them – and their motion is disconcertingly realistic. From a little ear twitch of a pig and the bobbing head of a bird to tiny movements mimicking breathing, every last detail has been considered. That makes you all the more invested in each animal (which means you’re all the more upset when they meet their fates – spoiler alert if you haven’t read the book or seen the film, sorry!).
The real highlight was the reveal of Boxer the horse. He is a true triumph of puppetry – and gigantic! It took three puppeteers to make him move, and how they made him kick, jump and battle in the fight scenes was simply inspiring. That takes real skill.
From giggles (mainly thanks to the chickens’ humour) to gasps when there’s a shot from a gun or an attack, and a clever use of blackouts, this show takes you on a journey that’s not to be missed. But don’t be fooled, despite the puppets, this show is made for adults… it’s pretty brutal.
When the puppeteers returned to the stage at the end of their performance and received their well-earned applause, it was amazing to see just 14 puppeteers. How had so few people managed to capture a theatre-full of people with so many puppets?
It’s a 90-minute minimal masterpiece.