A cow prop from Animal Farm
Photo: Lune Visser

Props used in Animal Farm

20 March 2023

Text: Lune Visser

‘Every designer has a different way of working. One will have their ideas completely fleshed out in a detailed drawing, while the other will just say “I need a cow”. Either way, we’ll get to work.’ Props manager Robert-Jan Ruijl talks about his “beastly” work for Animal Farm.

Robert-Jan got lucky when it came to the cow. The DNO production workshop built about 15 cows for Rosa, A Horse Drama some 30 years ago. Most of them were sold, but they kept one. ‘That was a stroke of luck for me. It was just that the cow was missing its legs and I had to build a new head. The inside is hollow, so that allowed me to connect the different parts with a strong piece of rope. This prevents the cow’s body parts from coming loose, but keeps the animal mobile as it hangs from hooks above the stage. We don’t want it to be stiff as a board. There has to be some semblance of reality to it.’

The cow is still on the operating table, but Robert-Jan has already constructed a pig, a sheep and a goat. They’re suspended from the ceiling in his workshop. ‘The sheep and the goat were easiest to build; they’re slightly smaller and I found the perfect skins for them at a fabric store. The pig was a different story. A pig has hairy skin. All I could find were werewolf skins for the movie industry on US websites. A really small piece would easily set you back about 50 dollars. Because that’s too costly, I’m now going to sew rough hairs onto pink fabric, one hair at a time. It’s painstaking work, but definitely a labour of love. It’ll turn out great, I have no doubt.’

Besides these four farm animals who will be strutting their stuff on the stage thanks to Robert-Jan, the opera will also feature “animals” in a more fluid form. There will be an actual meat grinder on stage that will be used during the performance of Animal Farm to produce fresh prop sausages from a colourful mixture of flour, water, salt, dye, sawdust and little balls of polystyrene...


  • Animal Farm was on from 3 till 6 March in Dutch National Opera & Ballet.