Laurence Wilson, familiar to Liverpool audiences as writer for 20 Stories High and a former Writer in Residence at the Everyman, has made this new adaptation of Orwell’s classic allegorical novel for Liverpool based community theatre company Tell Tale Theatre. It enjoyed four evenings at the Arts Club in Seel Street prior to playing in a shortened version to a number of local schools, thanks to support from the BBC Performing Arts Fund.
Impressively detailed designs by Alice Smith and Jasmine Swan fill the square thrust of the Arts Club spill straw over the barbed wire into the audience, and place the characters in farmer’s garb. There is (thankfully) no attempt make the actors up as the various animals, leaving them to make us believe the transformation through their movement and vocalisations.
The dialogue is delivered without any animalism, but the grunts, squeals, yelps and clucking emitted in between the lines does the trick, along with a good deal of rolling around in the straw. There was one point when the broody clucking and cooing of a flock of hens had me expecting a few dozen eggs to materialise.
Like its source material, this adaptation has a beguiling ability to creep up on its audience unawares. To begin with it’s almost as though we’re watching a group of children playing at being animals and the whole thing is full of good natured humour, but this is cunningly luring us into a false sense of security, as the piece becomes gradually more dark and sinister.
There are some fine performances, with one or two of the actors changing roles across performances.
This is an imaginative telling of the tale that finds some imaginative theatrical devices under Emma Whitley’s direction to solve many of the problems of putting it on stage. It is also a very physical piece with huge energy from all the actors, who have pathways through the audience to make many of their entrances and exits, and has the room shaking.
Music by Dave Owen is largely performed on solo guitar, and is supplemented with sound design that heightens the atmosphere at all the right moments.
It’s good to see theatrical work in this space, generally more used to seeing musical performance. With its prominent thrust stage, supporting pillars and terraced seating it strangely takes on a look of Shakespeare’s Globe when set for a play.
Bradley Thompson (Old Major) and the cast of Animal Farm
Photo ©James Newmarch