eadt
www.eadt.co.uk

Orwell’s masterpiece is timelessly haunting

1984 by George Orwell, Northern Broadsides, Stroud Theatre Company, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds

Wedneday, 17 November, 2010

THERE is so much wisdom in George Orwell’s 1984 that modern directors need not stretch some themes over others to make political points in 2010.


Orwell’s warnings about how societies can be twisted are timeless.

A faithful staging of his masterpiece sends shivers down the spine now as much as any time in the past 60 years.

TIMELESS: Carolyn Tomkinson in George Orwell's 1984 at the Theatre Royal

The world in which Winston Smith struggles is one where citizens work, isolated, in front of screens.

His Britain is one where nobody has elected the government which holds power: how it got there is something of a mystery even now.

Politicians say one thing and days later claim the opposite, manipulating history and memory through mass media pumped into people’s homes through ubiquitous screens.

Prisoners are tortured. Language is tortured in turn. Big Brother would have no qualms over dubbing kidnapping and waterboarding as “rendition”.

His Ministry of Truth, Doublethink and Newspeak are a masterclass in analysing how politicians communicate.

HAUNTING: Nick Haverson as Winston, Kate Ambler as Julia, Chris Garner as O'Brien, Andrew Price as Charrington, Carolyn Tomkinson as Katherine and John Branwell as Big Brother in George Orwell's 1984 at the Theatre Royal


One aspect of modern society which surely would have horrified Orwell is obvious in director Conrad Nelson’s stunning production: everywhere Winston goes, apart from the bolt-holes with lover Julia, he is watched.

Not just by Big Brother’s screens but by the rest of the cast, who stand still and staring, sometimes leaning forward – zooming in. Perhaps the most “Orwellian” aspects of the lives of towns and cities today are CCTV cameras.

This retro-feeling production of 1984 is brilliantly designed and executed. An imaginative set, where nothing is where it should be and grey doors on casters are moved to change locations, is manipulated deftly by a talented cast.

Smith, as played by Nick Haverson, truly struggles, first not to rebel, then flying free briefly before being captured and broken.


CHILLING: Chris Garner as O'Brien in Orwell's 1984 at the Theatre Royal


He makes the complicated, fast-moving torture scenes particularly horrifying, as does his nemesis, O’Brien (Chris Garner), whose chilling intelligence and calm gives way to psychopathic ranting.

The poise with which he holds and polishes his glasses adds to the chill. Kate Ambler is a free-spirited Julia and her scenes in Smith’s bedroom hideaway are touching, adding greatly to the final tragedy of their betrayal.

As important a character as any is a large screen which projects Big Brother’s brooding presence, but also stunning stop-frame animation of the characters’ inner thoughts, presenting a whole new layer to the action.

The greatest testament to this production is that two hours of one of the bleakest stories in literature pass in such mesmerising fashion. Only the edge of my seat was required and this faultless staging of a modern classic will haunt me for a long time to come.