Ever since 1945, when George Orwell printed his anthropomorphised farmyard allegory of the Russian revolution and Soviet slide into totalitarianism, it has felt newly related in whichever period it’s revived, not least our personal of contested truths and lies. But it speaks particularly loudly in every week when Vladimir Putin dangers being confirmed as Russia’s latter-day Napoleon – the pugnacious boar and autocratic chief of Animal Farm.
Robert Icke adapts and directs this startlingly good-looking manufacturing, its story enacted largely by puppets designed by Toby Olié of War Horse fame. There are fluttering pigeons, squabbling hens, muscular horses, characterful geese and naturally the thuggish pigs, Napoleon, Snowball and Squealer, who come to be the “more equal” animals on the farm, and who’ve large, sinister faces.
Several puppets are delightfully outsized however with miniature doubles, such because the heroic cart-horse Boxer, who’s formidable in his important incarnation, manipulated by three puppeteers, whereas there’s additionally a dinky, scaled-down model of him that often enters the motion to beguiling impact.
Puppeteers (14 in whole) crouch or wrap themselves round these animals with unimaginable nimbleness, whereas the animals’ phrases are voiced by 10 actors together with Juliet Stevenson and Robert Glenister. The solely human character on stage is farmer Jones (Jonathan Dryden Taylor), who will not be the careless drunk of Orwell’s guide however a crueller caricature.
There are some breathtaking scenes of puppets giving chase, and of two central battles between animals and people, and a very magnificent second when Boxer bursts out of the barn to defeat the farmers.
The stagecraft additionally incorporates loads of thrills and spills: there’s a superbly orchestrated blackness throughout Bunny Christie’s virtually empty set, which captures the hazard and darkness on the farm. Its corrugated iron panels, in the meantime, trace at a rusting dystopia. The black-and-white palette – the white of the animals in opposition to the black of the set – brings noirish visible melodrama and the sound design (by Tom Gibbons) provides to it, with its vigorously thumping bass and arch orchestral accompaniments. Together with the lighting design (by Jon Clark), it incorporates flecks of kabuki – tightly targeted actions to the beat of a drum-like word – and high-octane, Indiana Jones-style motion journey. It excels at staging a welter of violence with out resorting to any seen blood and gore.
But for all these phenomenal achievements, there’s not all the time a palpable sense of concern or menace on the farm, and possibly not sufficient character improvement. Napoleon (impressed by Stalin) is a gruff character however by no means turns into actually scary, and the place the guide offers these animals interior lives and personalities, right here these are briefly gestured at, generally in broad-brush methods.
There are makes an attempt to attract us nearer however the failings present simply how tough a narrative that is to stage. There is an emotional flatness and the main target is on motion – making it more amenable to a younger viewers, though the violence could also be too grownup.
Napoleon’s ruthless betrayal of Boxer will not be as tragic appropriately, partly as a result of the latter’s story doesn’t really feel individuated or intimate sufficient. We do probably not see him for the heart-wrenchingly loyal comrade he’s, accepting Napoleon’s ideology with out query. Here he’s merely a hard-working presence, and his closing scene will not be given sufficient area and doesn’t tug at our heartstrings.
But what the manufacturing doesn’t usher in its emotional results it makes up for in exhilarating spectacle, creativeness, vitality, and absolutely the glory of its puppetry.