Friday, 19 June 2015

"Animal Farm" by George Orwell
Nottingham Playhouse Ensemble.

Orwell's classic tale of greed, power, deceit and rebellion performed brilliantly in the Neville Suite of The Nottingham Playhouse. An ensemble of mixed ages really gel to produce a wonderfully exciting and fresh approach to this classic political masterpiece.

One night, all the animals at Mr. Jones' Manor Farm assemble in a barn to hear old Major, a pig, describe a dream he had about a world where all animals live free from the tyranny of their human masters. old Major dies soon after the meeting, but the animals, inspired by his philosophy of Animalism, plot a rebellion against Jones.

Two pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, prove themselves important figures and planners of this dangerous enterprise. When Jones forgets to feed the animals, the revolution occurs, and Jones and his men are chased off the farm. Manor Farm is renamed Animal Farm, and the Seven Commandments of Animalism are painted on the barn wall.All goes well with the rebellion but then greed sets in and everything changes, and not for the better for most.

Re imagined and set in a modern day "sweat shop", there are no animal costumes and minimal sets, but you know what, they weren't missed by me because the story is so strong, and the cast told the story so well that you were carried along with the plot. Performed "in the round", which is, I imagine, something that would pile the pressure on with the younger actors, but they performed like seasoned pros, never missing a cue or word. A totally professional and confident cast.

A fairly large cast in numbers but didn't seem that way when all were in the performance area, A nod towards the stage management and direction from Louise Pearson and Allie Spencer respectively. From the youngest cast members Oran McGuire and Rachel McDonald-Hulme, who were cool, calm and collected as the narrators, to Sandra Keeling who played Benjamin the donkey and Bryan Ledbetter, who played the old horse, Boxer, it was really good to see such a wide age range working so well together.

Anyone who has been to any production in The Neville Suite will know that it's not the biggest performing area but the space was utilised so well and part of this image of space and area was down to the lighting, designed by Martin Curtis, who also did a great job with the sound design as well. Acoustically a success for clarity.

Space being limited, the choreography of the play is also vital, especially with having a cast of 23, most of which are on stage at the same time, and Amanda Hall played a big part in the direction of this as well as being assistant director with Nathan Powell.

Sometimes when you "update" a masterpiece, which incidentally was first published in 1945, there is that fear of losing something, but nothing was lost here and it doesn't hurt to freshen up a strong story to attract a new audience when it's been done as lovingly as this. Still as relevant today with the power struggles and greed that's rife in the modern world, this is one play that I'd insist any follower of modern literature and modern theatre should visit, and revisit.

A top notch production and cast which is on at the Neville Suite, Nottingham Playhouse only until Saturday 20 June 2015. A massive well done to everyone in the cast and behind the scenes.

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