The challenge for any director responsible for bringing a work to the stage is always immense. When the work in question is so well known and has even introduced terminology into common parlance, that challenge is all the greater.

But Iqbal Khan, the director of Animal Farm which opens at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre tonight is clearly more than up for it.

“You always think should I be doing this?” he said, “but then when you have something as well known as this, you understand that it is well known for a reason because it has stood the test of time.”

Bury Times: The cast of Animal Farm in rehearsal (Back) Killian Macardle, Polly Lister, Samater Ahmed. (Front) Sam Black, Ida Regan, Amy Drake (Picture: Bolton Documentary Photography)

Written in 1948, George Orwell’s original short story about a group of farm animals who rebel against their human farmer to create a society where everyone is free and equal only for those ideals to come crashing down, was his commentary on the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Stalinist regime.

“The starting point for me was ‘where am I doing this?’” said Iqbal, one of the country’s leading directors who has worked extensively with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

“I am doing it in Bolton in 2024 so you want to ensure that the company first is the right mix of artists from here. You want artists who are engaged politically in the world but also really curious. They want to go on a journey and discover what it is and how we do what we do. That casting is key.

“My ambition with this production is to ensure that anyone coming to the show for the first time has the gut punch of it, the nightmarish journey that you go on with it.

“And anybody who has seen a version of it before feels like it has been refreshed; that we’re finding innovative ways to tell the story.

“The only way to find that is not to plot too much beforehand. It’s to discover it in the rehearsal room with the artists that you have and challenge yourself to discover the new things together.”

There have been many versions of Animal Farm on film, TV and on stage. So what form will this Octagon version take?

“One thing we have to answer is how does the parable work for now?” said Iqbal. “I thought about the world of the workers and it feels that a very powerful parallel to now is the world of technology; the world of AI; the world where the fruits of our labour are not seen. We are disconnected from the people who govern our lives and who create the rules under which we live.

“This led to us thinking about modern battery farms and the electronics involved; the idea of a surveillance state, a kind of farm that feels more like an abattoir where there are security cameras; where the world of man is in the machine. It’s not an organic world. and although that’s unnerving, it feels appropriate to now.

“Our version of the revolution is tearing apart that surveillance state; that world of technology to begin again and seeing how the technology is appropriated.”

In Orwell’s original book, the animals are just that albeit taking on human characteristics. Iqbal is keen for his production to be less specific.

Bury Times: Killian Macardle in rehearsal for Animal Farm (Picture: Bolton Documentary Photography)

“It is important that the parable represents different kinds of human experience not the animal experience,” he said. “There is some suggestion about the animals particularly in their physicality but they represent different types of human beings.”

Animal Farm is challenging but as with the original work it’s much more besides.

“What is wonderful about Orwell’s novella is that it’s quite witty; it’s a kind of satire so there is a lot of humour threaded through it and there is in our version too

“It’s a thrilling story taking the audience on a nightmarish, rollercoaster ride which, I hope, will be an immersive experience for them. They will enter a completely different world and then they descend with us into the awful things that happen. I hope theatrically it’s going to be thrilling and surprising and unsettling.”

Iqbal is no stranger to the Octagon although this is his first visit to the new-look theatre since its multi-million pound makeover.

“It is so wonderful top be back,” he said. “I met my wife here when I did Rafta Rafta in 2010 so this feels like I’m completing a circle in a way. In my early career I did lots of work in the regions although I’ve done less of late and I always wanted to come back here and work with artists and actors from here and I’ve got to say our company is extraordinary.

“The Octagon is a jewel of a theatre and the recent developments have provided an even more positive environment to create and to engage.”

The audience will be very much part of the production and Iqbal hopes that younger audiences in particular will enjoy the immersive experience, possibly for the first time.

“The audience is always a vital component for any production,” he said, “particularly so with this. I hope that anyone new to the piece will be completely overwhelmed.

“For me every time I do something I treat every piece like it’s a new piece. I challenge myself and the cast to go ‘why are we doing this now?’

“It has got to feel like it speaks to an audience watching it in 2024 and with all the awful stuff going on at moment we need them to feel it’s a parable that speaks to our time now and I think it’s shamefully relevant.”

Animal Farm, Bolton Octagon, until Saturday, February 24. Details from