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Animal Farm Review

George Orwell's Animal Farm feels as relevant as ever, some 80 years after it was first published. Children's Theatre Partnership in association with Birmingham Rep presents an impressive new staging adapted and directed by Robert Icke.

Snowball (puppeteers Elisa De Grey and Matt Tait) and Napoleon (puppeteers Ben Thompson and Michael Jean-Marain). Photo by Manuel Harlan

Icke's production doesn't shy away from the brutality of the story as the animals revolt against their farmer only for the revolution to become a dictatorship led by Napoleon, one of the pigs. The brutality of the story is played out as numerous animals die, this is cleverly staged with a screen on stage displaying the animal, their age and the cause of their death. 

Icke teams up with brilliant puppetry designer and director, Toby Olié, to bring the animals to life. These life-sized animals are mightly impressive as are the cast of puppeteers that bring the story to life. It's mesmerising to watch the puppets interact and play out this tale. Olié manages to capture every animal in the most impressive way. The horses, in particular Boxer, is mighty in their majestic power as it commands the stage. This is puppeteering at the highest level of quality.

Bunny Christie's fairly bleak and empty set allows for the drama to play out without much distraction. The only real pieces of set come from the iron farm buildings or miniature scale puppets that are sometimes used. This allows the audience to focus in, especially on the puppets and let the animal's story unfold. Atmospheric lighting by Jon Clark brings the darkness and brutality of the play to the forefront with impressive skill, especially in the darker scenes.

The Cast of Animal Farm. Photo by Manuel Harlan

The dialogue is delivered via pre-recorded soundtrack with music and sound design by Tom Gibbons. An impressive voice cast combines well with the hugely talented puppeteers, the synchronicity between the soundtrack and the on-stage action never falters. The tense soundscape in the battle sequences between humans and animals makes the scenes become an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride.

There are scenes that I'd have like to have seen fleshed out a little more but this 90-minute fast-paced adaptation leaves the audience in no doubt of the stark reality of masking the world we continue to live in. Animal Farm remains a masterpiece of literature and Icke, Olié and company deliver a production that is of the highest quality. It's tense, gripping and brutally brilliant.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Animal Farm continues at Nottingham's Theatre Royal playing until Saturday 9th April. Tickets are available from The production visits Coventry's Belgrade Theatre from Tuesday 12th - Saturday 16th April with tickets available from The tour continues with dates until May. Visit for full tour dates.

Clover (puppeteers Yana Penrose and Edie Edmundson) and Boxer (puppeteers Elisa De Grey, Matt Tait and Rayo Patel). Photo by Manuel Harlan.

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