George Orwell’s classic anti-communist ‘fairy-tale’ Animal Farm has been adapted into a semi-musical play and is the Mercury Theatre Youth Company’s production for 2015. While the story obviously remains engaging and offers an interesting interpretation of a communist revolution, this adaptation doesn’t really seem to do the original story or young company justice. It is, however, vastly better than my only other prior experience of Animal Farm – slightly boring English lessons which involved watching a really terrible film. I therefore enjoyed that this performance was based in a school classroom in which the teenagers are less-than-pleased about learning about Animal Farm!
The young cast was brimming with talent and all members carried the production very professionally. I was really impressed with the performance of Josephine Carter as Mollie; close attention was paid to ensuring she remained in pig-like character throughout and she gave a natural, engaging performance. Alfie Burrows also stood out as Squealer; he possessed a very clear sense of character and really made me laugh with his sarcastic comments and mannerisms. Paulina Hagyariova gave another notable performance as Napoleon; she excellently demonstrated the pig’s transformation into the evil dictator of Animal Farm.
If the cast were to be let down by anything it would be the slightly subpar nature of the script and score. I wasn’t really expecting the production to involve quite as much music as it did, and although it served its function and allowed the cast to show off some of their vocal talent, I actually think I would have preferred to see a more play-focused production than musical-focused (not something I ever thought I’d hear myself say as I sit here singing along to my musicals playlist). The music seemed a bit repetitive and none of the songs really stuck with me beyond leaving the theatre.
Animal Farm‘s set design was highly impressive, featuring a vast chalk board that covered the back of the stage and classroom tables and chairs to set the school-based tone of the production. Cast members wrote the 7 rules of ‘Animalism’ over the walls and these were altered in the interval to represent the changes in ideology, a clever touch that allowed the audience to truly engage with the story and set. Additionally, the use of classroom equipment was very imaginative – metre rulers were used to suggest longer legs for the larger animals, water bottles used were used for milking cows, and even McDonalds cups were used to add percussion to some of the music. Origami-style animal masks had also been exquisitely designed and used to offer a subtle but clear transformation into different animals, with some cast members portraying 3 different characters.
Slightly underwhelming material performed well by an excellent young cast, Animal Farm is worth a watch to discover some future acting stars, but perhaps not for anyone wishing to see a great adaptation of Orwell’s classic story.
Animal Farm is playing until 18th July at the Mercury Theatre Colchester.