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Animal Farm - Derby Theatre Review

Reviewed by Bethany Hill
Tickets were gifted in return for an honest review

All animals are equal … but some are more equal than others? A new imagining of George Orwell’s 1945 novella, Animal Farm at Derby Theatre proves that this modern classic is as relevant today as it ever has been.

Photo by Pamela Raith.

On Manor Farm, a host of animals take delight in overthrowing their master and creating a whole new world following an inspirational dream and speech by the wise Old Major. An idyllic world of peace, love and equality for all; simple right? However as the animals find, this communist bliss is slowly chipped away as pigs Napoleon, Snowball and Squealer seize and manipulate control of the farm once again. 

It begins with small gestures: a mutual hatred of a common enemy, pigs hoarding apples and sleeping in the farm house. When those in power begin to turn on each other, it quickly becomes evident that the power hungry will always rise and that corruption of power is perhaps inevitable. In this dark and sinister story, a spotlight is shone on those that demand power and the consequences of this on those unwilling or unable to rise against them.

The play begins with some pre-show atmospheric sound design. It starts with the sound of farmyard animals before moving to more jarring, manmade sounds that show a foreshadowing of what is to come on the farm. A single red light patrols the stage and audience, giving an Orwellian feeling that big brother is watching and stirring the audience with a sense of unease from the off.

This is followed by a wonderful phones and photography message which I won’t spoil but straight away the scene is set; we are the sheep of the farm, one of the lower classes of animal there to observe. This is reiterated later with a small amount of audience participation; four legs good, two legs baaaaad.

The staging throughout the production is fantastic in its use of symbolism. The masks used to identify key characters are hung from the ceiling of the stage, brought down seamlessly to aid in the character transitions (with the cast playing multiple key parts). Wooden planks are used to
symbolise the shift of power at play throughout the show, whether that be the barricades to keep out man or the building of Napoleon’s windmill. Another striking feature of the set is the use of UV paint and lightening, showing the laws of Animal Farm looming in the background. Symbolism is striking in this production; for example in a simple yet effective repeated hand gesture of covering mouths with a fist, alluding to the enforced silence of the lower classes.

Photo by Pamela Raith

All of the performances in this performance are also outstanding. With a small cast of six, each player must change entirely to represent the multiple characters they portray. The use of physical movement and choreography of this show was inspired; subtle enough to avoid melodrama but whilst making it clear to the audience who each character is. Old Major is played by Polly Lister. With stirring vocals and a wise persona, it is no surprise that the other animals of the farm are inspired by the idyllic animalism she represents. Killian Macardle plays Squealer, Napoleon’s right-hand man and slave driver who uses comic timing fabulously whilst also showing an underhanded, sinister side brilliantly. Ida Regan is our Napoleon; a true politician, she is strong in delivery of her powerful speeches yet also shows the hidden edge of politicians in power. 

Amy Drake plays Mollie; it is so easy for the audience to feel sorry for this Mare and she shows with nuance how easily information about the past can be twisted and manipulated in favour of a compelling argument. Her confusion is frustrating but so relatable. Samater Ahmed plays both the scapegoated Snowball as well as donkey Benjamin as key roles in the production. There is such a clever transition between these roles that you would be forgiven for thinking they were played by different people! Finally, Boxer is played by Sam Black. His story is devastating as he begins with such enthusiasm for the cause and works harder than anyone for his leaders, only to be cast aside when he is not of use any more. Black plays this innocence and enthusiasm perfectly which only makes his end all the more upsetting. 

There are entire books written about the political commentary and power that this story holds. What is alarming is just how important the lessons of this tale are to our world now, given it is almost 80 years since it’s publication. This story needs to continue to be told and Derby Theatre have done a compelling and thrilling job of ensuring these messages reach audiences new and old today. It is not a show to be missed!


Animal Farm plays at Derby Theatre until Saturday 16th March and tickets are available from

Photo by Pamela Raith.

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