Dukes, Lancaster

Tuesday 28 September 2010 by Alfred Hickling

George Orwell's book lends itself to a surprisingly individual range of theatrical approaches. Northern Stage placed it in the tradition of stark, European expressionism; Matthew Dunster's recent version at Manchester Royal Exchange was vivid social realism. Now Northern Broadsides combine a small chorus with monochrome animations to reimagine the work as a live graphic novel with Aeschylean overtones.

This dual approach seems apposite. There is an inexorability to Winston Smith's fate that befits the brute mechanics of Greek tragedy - who, after all, was Zeus if not Big Brother with a thunderbolt? And the video sequences employ a scuffed, flickering form of charcoal-based stop-motion animation that involves repeatedly redrawing an image on a single sheet of paper: a neat analogy for the party's obsession with erasing the immediate past.

The live and recorded action blend well in Conrad Nelson's production. Nick Haverson's haggard Winston looks hardly less drawn than the animated version which appears on screen. Kate Ambler's Julia is a hearty lass whose animal instincts can barely be contained by her Anti-Sex League sash.

Many of the book's broader predictions – Big Brother, Newspeak, Room 101 – have become common currency. Watching Nick Lane's adaptation you are struck by how many smaller details Orwell also foresaw: a state-run lottery, shoot-'em-up movies, and a two-year wait for a plumber.