animal farm review

Review: Animal Farm, Richmond Theatre

Review: Animal Farm, Richmond Theatre

“A beautiful, compelling production that pays homage to the original work with remarkable faithfulness.”


Directed by Robert Icke, Animal Farm stays as faithful to the source material as possible, whilst still remaining thoroughly entertaining and solidly and beautifully crafted. If you know your Orwell, you probably won’t be surprised – but, it seems, it was precisely the point.  

The impressive puppetry by Toby Olié of War Horse fame requires swift and vigorous staging and commendable effort from the cast of 15. It is overall gorgeous – oversized (but with miniature models used in action scenes), caricatural and non-realistic in all the best ways, it does convey all the emotional weight the show carries.  

One thing can absolutely be said about this production – it is beautiful. The attention to detail, stunning puppetry, Icke’s characteristic cinematic qualities and clever set design solutions all make for an extremely visually attractive production – and a pleasant middlebrow evening. 

There are small delights in the staging itself – Napoleon’s attempts to stand on two legs quite early on in the plot, Boxer’s miniature puppet in the background (how very Stakhanovite), Farmer Jones’ caricatural cruelty, or swift and fluid almost manipulation of the number of animal Commandments. Characters are allegories of general concepts now moreso than they satirise actual historical characters (such as Trotsky and Mayakovsky), but the poignant political mockery still stands very strong.  

There are scenes of tremendous beauty and breathtaking impact: when Boxer breaks down the door to save the farm and when the famous Battle of the Cowshed ensues – staged with sensitivity and vigour, they successfully point at violence without actually showing gory details and bloodshed. The simple, bleak and overwhelmingly dark set designed by Bunny Christie and orchestral music by Tom Gibbons create a grim atmosphere filled with distrust, despair and lost dreams.  

There are also, flaws. Boxer’s death scene seems fragmented and might be a bit hard to grasp for the younger audiences – and there is potential for it to resonate better. At times the plot seems to be running from one Animal Farm Meeting to another, with all the crucial actions happening off-stage. Certain subplots are never resolved Clover’s sudden sagacity also seems to appear a little out of the blue.  

These are minor, however, and stem from a remarkable difficulty in adapting Orwell to the stage. It is, overall, a beautiful, compelling production that pays homage to the original work with remarkable faithfulness. Orwell is sadly, always timely – and even moreso now hot on the heels of Putin’s speech on Victory Day. These associations will never be not tragic – but the play remains a stunning feat of stagecraft nonetheless.  

Richmond Theatre, until 14 May

Image: Manuel Harlan