With theatre listings filled with classic plays and novels updated for young Audiences, it would be very easy to dismiss Northern Stage's Animal Farm as yet another all smoke and mirrors production. It certainly appears flashy at times but there is more to it than many vapid, glossy remakes.
Ian Wooldridge has managed to add something new to the classic book without once attempting to dilute the original message. George Orwell's evergreen novel is still a popular GCSE text and much celebrated the world over. Whilst watching this spirited production you get the feeling that the author himself would be very proud of this new and dare I say improved version.
Orwell's attack on liberal thinkers who damn one regime but ignore another manifests itself on a farm where the animals are a commodity and money is the name of the game. Once the animals start to rebel they each become power crazy. After a while it is clear that as the leadership changes, the rules of the farm become blurred. Each animal realises that they must fight for survival - they are not as equal as they once believed.
This clever swipe at how the masses accept each message being peddled to them in different dressings is given a new lease of life by Northern Stage. The stunning set has depth and an eerie quality which is complemented by Tina MacHugh's intense lighting and Rob Brown's chilling sound effects.
The whole ensemble cast display physical prowess, bundles of energy and the ability to convince the audience they are animals. This works even though each of them is dressed as a human. Franciso Alfonsin is the star of the piece as he plays Boxer the ageing horse with real compassion and verve. The audience on the night I attended seemed very moved by his character's plight.
Never before I have seen a play with so much to say in 90 minutes delivered with such precision, energy and love for the original text. This production is sexy, funny, moving, and often thought provoking.
Neil Murray's expert direction ensures that you will not look at your watch once. In fact this one of those rare productions that you will not want to end.