1984

Tobacco Factory, Bristol (Tue 23-Sat 27 Nov)

THEATRE Many stories are tinkered with when they get up on stage – the Shakespeare comedy transplanted to the flower-power era; the Molière satire recast to Noughties metroland. Yorkshire’s Northern Broadsides know that George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece is so unique and so redolent that its staging should be deft and simple, to let its mood of alienation and robotic conformity hit home all the harder. Their innovations, such as they are, are judicious – the vast TV screen in Winston Smith’s flat, featuring Big Brother’s implacable, unblinking gaze, is used at other times to evoke barely remembered idylls from Smith’s pre-Oceania childhood. Elsewhere, the stage is dark and spare, and the five actors who share all roles between them are dressed in workmanlike blue boilersuits. Amid this bleak, circumscribed world, the love that grows between Smith (Nick Haverson) and Julia (a performance of defiant vitality from Kate Ambler) is all the more poignant: locked away in their tiny attic room in the North London suburbs, the two build up a world full of colour, humour and passion, all the qualities that the new régime has leached out of life. Chris Garner is superb, meanwhile, as O’Brien, Smith’s ally apparent who later becomes his calm, cocksure torturer. A gripping production that leaves well alone and brings Orwell’s nightmare vision thrillingly to life – and makes you walk out thanking your lucky stars.

Copyright Steve Wright 2010