21 May 2021

Animal Farm - National Youth Theatre Review

435 days after I was in the Royal Theatre in Northampton and the last performance I saw before lockdown one in March 2020, I touched back down on a seat in this gorgeous theatre again for an utterly magical afternoon of theatre.


Before I talk about the performance itself I must heap praise on the team at Royal and Derngate. The entry process was easy and there was a great one-way system in place. At the door there was the process of checking your ticket and scanning checking in on the NHS Track and Trace App. Following the entry time on the ticket I made my way into the auditorium and found my seat. The front of house team were excellent throughout with their information and guidance in the building. I was quite anxious about the whole thing but as soon as I was inside I felt safe and that's credit to all the measures that are in place.


Photo by Ali Wright

After waiting so long I can't begin to word the emotions that stirred inside me as the lights went down and the performance of Animal Farm began. Forgive me if this review is a full of those emotions.


The Made in Northampton production is a collaboration between the theatre and the National Youth Theatre (their alumni includes Matt Smith, Helen Mirren, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Daniel Day Lewis!) and I was completely transfixed by this production.


Directed by Ed Stambollouain, Tatty Hennessy's adaptation captured every powerful beat of George Orwell's original story. The grit, the corruption, the revolution and the power has been superbly caught and by the script and feels very relevant to the current political climate we live in.


For those unfamiliar with the story, we meet the animals on Mr Jones's Manor Farm who decide to over throw the farmer and run the place themselves. What they imagine will be the beginning of a new life quickly turns sour as amongst them is the ruthless pigs who establish themselves and take over control. The animals soon realise that everyone is not as equal as they hoped and find themselves ensnared as tyranny is replaced with another and independence isn't what they hoped or were promised. 


Photo by Ali Wright.

The design team have done a beautiful job of rooting the perfect feel to the production. Jasmine Swan's set design is tremendous. It captures the perfect setting for the farm and it's gritty nature as the performance moves along. The use of the sheet curtains, like you'd see in the back of a butcher's is a constant reminder of the danger these animals can find themselves in. Jasmine's costume design's are equally as impressive, it's whole thing has a dystopian and almost steampunk feel. The colour palate for this design allows each set of animals to be distinctive in their own way so as to not confuse you who is what. 


That visual design is completed by Zoe Spurr and her talented eye for lighting design. Zoe's paints a picture with her lighting in this show. The use of shadows and back lighting especially for those in power, be that the farmers or the pigs is particularly striking. The sound design is as effective, Xana's soundscape adds an underlying layer of emotion. I really enjoyed John Elliott's music too.


The company of 16 from the National Youth Theatre Rep Company, all of whom are making their professional debuts, are nothing short of outstanding. Stars of the future who have the potential and skill to go far. The great choreography by Vicky Igbokwe and fight direction Enric Ortuno allows for the actors to capture the movement of each animal.


Adeola Yemitan stood out for me with her performance as horse Clover. Her character arc particularly in the second half, whilst I don't want to spoil the ending, but the power of her releasing so much passionate energy and emotion really struck me. Note her name down, she will go on to big things.


Adeola Yemitan as Clover. Photo by Ali Wright.

Connor Crawford revels in the deliciously monstrous Farmer Jones, his entrance is on that would give a few kids sleepless nights. Jack Humphrey's Minty the Sheep has given me a found sheep respect. James-Eden Hutchinson delights in bringing some laughter as pigeon Milo. Not knowing the story before hand I didn't see the change in Jack Matthew's Napoleon coming but it's something he did with great skill. I could simply list each cast member for their tremendous characterisations and performances, each one perfectly brought to life.


As you can probably tell I was totally spellbound by this performance. What a way to bring performance back on to the stage at Royal and Derngate and for me to experience live performance again. Everything you could want from a piece of theatre when you've been away for so long, storytelling captured and executed in a way that is nothing short of brilliance.


Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ a moving return to the theatre with an extraordinary production.


Animal Farm runs at Royal and Derngate until Saturday 22nd May. Another co-production between the theatre and the National Youth Theatre, Othello, runs at Royal and Derngate from 25th to 29th May 2020. Both production will then tour playing at the Workshop Theatre in Islington, Soulton Hall in Shropshire and Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire. You can find out more about the two productions at https://www.nyt.org.uk/whats-on/nyt-rep-season-2021 

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