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Animal Farm (Oxford)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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I can see exactly why Animal Farm was chosen as a piece for the 16-22 Company at Oxford Playhouse to perform - it works well as a piece for a large ensemble of young performers and allows them to explore a wide range of theatrical techniques in order to make the story come alive for the audience.

The company works in a slightly unusual way - with two groups rehearsing on different nights during the week and only coming together for some Saturday rehearsals. Director Jo Noble chooses to share the principal roles between members of both groups - so we get 2 Napoleons, 2 Boxers and so forth. I can fully appreciate the reason why this decision was taken and it does allow some performers to really shine. However, it does also create a certain amount of confusion for audience members who might not immediately understand what has happened and almost certainly not the reason why.

Other than a few line stumbles, I cannot fault the principal actors for the commitment and dedication they display. I am certain that some of them will go forward for professional training and be seen on stage and screen in the future.

There are some very effective moments of theatre created by the ensemble as a whole and some where the clarity of the story-telling could have been tightened further in the rehearsal room. With a cast of over 30 on stage almost constantly, a certain level of congestion is to be expected, however there are too many moments where the focus of the scene is obscured by the sheer mass of bodies surrounding the main players at that point.

I do also have a few issues with Ian Wooldridge's script which does not best serve Orwell's original narrative with an over-reliance on telling rather than showing.

All in all, this is only a partial success for this company of young, talented performers. A better adaptation and some greater clarity in the direction would have allowed them all an opportunity to impress the audience.


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