Animal Farm

George Orwell, adapted by Peter Hall
The Quarry Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
(2008)

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What a fantastic story Orwell wrote: firmly located in its day, it is also easily applicable to other times and places. Power corrupts etc. His animal characters are universal and lovingly drawn. Who hasn't felt weepy when Boxer is carted off to the knackers yard, irritated by prissy self-regarding Molly seduced by a few ribbons, sad for the bleating sheep?

This brilliant, if flawed, production sticks very closely to Orwell's text. And the set is magnificent and used to great affect. (But, here one strange drawback - poor sight-lines. It takes real perversity to bugger-up the audience's view in the Quarry but between them designer and director managed it. Sitting towards the back of this magnificent auditorium I was amongst possibly 10% of a full house who couldn't see the wall, with its essential slogans).

But so good were the actors and text that I still spent a happy couple of hours watching the story unfold. And there was again a real ensemble feel to the piece (as in WYP's recent Privates on Parade). This is a welcome development, and one that has rarely been achieved in previous Playhouse productions. Even so it would a be a churlish reviewer who neglected to mention a superb characterisation of Muriel the sheep from Loveday Smith. Smith, wonderfully lamblike, tottering on her hooves, just never stopped moving. And Ian Conningham's Squealer also deserves credit - how noxious can a politician get?

Adrian Mitchell's words were sturdy and caught the spirit of 'animalism' and Richard Peaslee's music had an excellent atonality - both appropriate to the faux simplicity of Orwell/Hall's text. Sad (and feeble, and ridiculous) that the songs were sung in 'traditional' English, simpering middle class accents. Posh sheep and cows and hens! Bunkum.

All in all though, a wonderful night, greatly appreciated by a full house with a very significant cohort of kids.

Playing to 8th November

Reviewer: Ray Brown