Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Revolution Farm @ City Farm
London theatre West End News reviews
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21 Aug REVIEW: Revolution Farm @ City Farm

Considered one of the finest works of a generation, George Orwell’s Animal Farm is a satirical critique of Stalinism, and the events that led to and resulted from the Russian revolution of 1917. In staging an adaptation of the novel nearly 100 years later, it would be very easy to fall into the trap of simply reciting the tale, losing any semblance of relevance or urgency. But Revolution Farm @ City Farm gives a fresh and interesting take on the novel, bringing it up to date and hinting at a more modern allegory.

It was a brave decision from the producers to stage a show on a farm, an environment that hasn’t been designed to cater for theatrical audiences, with no sloped/tiered seating, no box office and no bar. But what the farm lacks in facilities, it makes up for in character and charm; nowhere else would you find yourself waiting for the show to start, sat outside on a yellow picnic bench overlooking the fields, listening to the sound of birdsong and, even more unusually, Londoners talking to eachother (!). The farm is not only the perfect setting for the story, but the way Revolution Farm is staged allows the audience to move around, switching between three different locations (which is also handy for keeping warm), as we follow the animals around their farm – a real strength of the production as it moves us closer to the, “immersive theatre” end of the spectrum. This is used to great effect when the animals turn on the humans, branding us, “scum,” and confining us to the barn as they revolt, chanting and hitting the walls aggressively, with our imaginations left to rampage.

Playwright James Kenworth has done a great job of incorporating and updating Orwell’s omnipresent political dimension into the show. Contemporary Conservative phraseology echoes around the barn, as a well-spoken pig in a suit proclaims, “we’re all in this together,” whilst forcing the other animals to work harder and longer, for exponentially less food. Clever costume design from Ian Teague has those same pigs start the show in tracksuits, speaking with strong East End accents which slowly become less pronounced as the pigs elevate themselves to the ruling class. Without opining on the political merits of this position, these subtle nods to our modern day reality provide an abundance of food for thought.

As a Community Links project, the animals are all played by a combination of professional and local child actors. This works to a certain extent; it’s great how the young actors all play their parts continuously, picking up and replicating small animal movement traits and sounds even when not part of the drama. I also liked the straightforward way the cast were transformed into character, with just a little facepaint and, for example, a snout made from an egg box. Inevitably there was variability in the quality of acting, and at times some of the dialogue was tricky to hear, but it was always conveyed with conviction and heart.

Wrap up warm (this is the Great British summer after all), and bring comfy shoes, a waterproof and an open mind. Revolution Farm @ City Farm is gritty, urban and unique, the kind of paradox that Orwell himself might have been proud of.

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