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Review: Animal Farm at Newcastle Northern Stage

All’s Well That’s Orwell
Animal Farm
By George Orwell
Newcastle Northern Stage
Thursday 3rd – Saturday 5th March 2016
Alnwick Playhouse
Wednesday 23rd March 2016
Adapted for the stage by Ian Wooldridge
Directed by Mark Calvert
Performed by NORTH 2016: Craig Fairbairn, Millie Harris, Dale Jewitt, Katherine Pierce & William Wyn Davies

It was always going to be a challenge to take on the well known George Orwell story and to produce something new. Northern Stage’s young North 2016 company have pulled it off, under the careful handing of direction Mark Calvert and assistant director Maria Crocker. They have injected passion, music and a sense of purpose to create something that feels fresh and very relevant.

The cast of NORTH 2016 in Animal Farm
Photo: Topher McGrillis.
Orwell’s story was first published in 1943 and yet it is still relevant today. The tale of how a revolution loses its direction and changes little, except for the worse has been given a clear narrative. The story begins without any nods to the eventual ending.

Mr Jones, the farmer has hit the bottle and is starting to neglect the animals. One pig, the Old Major, knows his end is near but sets out a scenario of revolution to the other animals. A world in which the animals become their own masters and no longer answerable to the two legged foe that are the humans. A society in which all animals are equal.  Shortly after the old Major’s death, Mr Jones returns to the farm from the pub a little worse for wear and the animals take advantage to seize control and drive him away. The resultant farm is to be run by the animals for the animals. A set up in which animals don’t hurt animals nor do they co-operate with humans. It isn’t long before the pigs, under the watchful eye of Napoleon, start calling the shots.

Dale Jewitt from NORTH in Animal Farm
Photo: Topher McGrillis.
The company of five have a number of characters to cover and without resorting to masks or costume changes they pull it off. Throw in a large feeling of cabaret, and the tale unfolds in a clear confident manner.  Adding to the mix are the fact that this group can play instruments and sing and hence it makes perfect sense for Orwell’s song to come alive. Right at the beginning the audience are given a treat as Millie Harris and Katherine Pierce duet to the tune created by Dale Jewitt, William Wyn Davies and Craig Fairbairn. The combination of guitar and drums continues to supplement the tension throughout the narrative.
Katherine Pierce and Millie Harris
Photo: Topher McGrillis
The set design allows the plot, and music, to flow. In particular the shadow play with drunken Mr Jones was a clever combination of lighting and a creative cast.  Numerous doors, planks and trestles provide the platform, and the constructions, as the story develops.

Craig Fairbarn & William Wyn Davies
Photo: Topher McGrillis
The production feels very fresh and relevant as the ensemble remain faithful to the original book. Yet the story feels bright and entertaining, which will be essential when it tours the secondary schools in the coming weeks.  There is an exciting energy from all 5 cast members that helps make this a most memorable production. There is an exciting future ahead for this group of actors. They return to Northern Stage with their next production Growth from the 21st– 23rd April. Early booking is recommended as Animal Farm has sold extremely well, and deservedly so.

This review was written by Stephen Oliver for Jowheretogo PR ( Follow Jo on twitter @jowheretogo, Stephen @panic_c_button or like Jowheretogo on Facebook

Animal Farm is at Northern Stage from the 3rdto the 5th  March, and at the Alnwick Playhouse on Wednesday 23rd March. The tour includes 10 schools in Teesside, County Durham, Northumberland and Tyne & Wear. For more information or to book tickets visit call the box office on 0191 230 5151. To find out more about NORTH, visit
Recommended age 12+.

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