Down on the farm the animals are revolting. Mr Jones has been evicted and now spends in evenings in the Red Lion telling anyone who’ll listen that it’s not right. The pigs and sheep and cows and horses (especially the sheep) are singing as they work. Everything in the world is good.
But of course this is Animal Farm, as adapted by Sir Peter Hall from the novel by George Orwell. We all know that it’s going to go pear shaped.
It’s a brave endeavour, taking on a text so beloved by the great British public but under the direction of Gemma Dodds the Caxtons carry it off in style in this excellent new production.
Are there any other books that are held so high in popular esteem as Animal Farm? To Kill A Mockingbird perhaps and it’s no coincidence that both are stalwarts of the schools literature syllabus. For some of us these books represent our last tentative dabble in the margins of proper grown up fiction before we reached adulthood and discovered Harry Potter.
Remember sitting around discussing which of the animals represented particular individuals from the Russian Revolution? But just how much relevance to the world of today can an allegorical dissection of the failings of early twentirth century Russian communism still have?
The answer is much more than you might think. A sudden populist uprising. A leader whose appeal is based on his apparent lack of subtlety and anti-intellectualism. Established truths which change when you back is turned. As Marx himself once said “Who are you going to believe? Me or your eyes?”
Napoleon, leader of the pigs knows the power of fake news and bluster all too well. Give that pig a blonde wig and unusually small trotters and we could be on the Washington Mall for his inauguration while his fellow animals work themselves almost beyond endurance as they wait for Napoleon to make the farm so great again.
It’s a very strong production, with many of the parts taken by members of the Caxton Youth Theatre and all involved acquit themselves admirably. The three pigs are excellent; Shalei Cook’s Napoleon exudes real menace while Alice Gibbett as Squealer has the newspeak down to a tee. Stewart Dodds is a fine Boxer, imbued with the naive enthusiasm of Stakhanov and Denny from Please Sir and Mike Wilson, playing a variety of villagers, creates a series of memorable cameos without overshadowing the younger members of the cast.
The best moments of the evening come from the relationship between Clover the goat and Muriel the horse. I apologise for referring to them after the show as the cows. It was dark.Clever enough to see that things are going wrong but insufficiently strong to challenge the ascendancy of the pigs, their despair and sense of betrayal is ours too and Grace Halton and Lisa February bring exactly the right blend of anger and uncertainty to their parts, giving the play it’s moral centre.
Animal Farm is at the Caxton Theatre until Saturday 28th January and it’s well worth an evening’s worth of your time.