Orwell's Work is Still A Shocker

21 September 2010 by Robin Duke

When George Orwell's futuristic novel was first published it was frightening in its prophecies of a totalitarian society in which our every move was watched, communities could be manipulated by political forces for their own advantage, wars could be fought against ever changing enemies dictated by unseen powers and history could be re-written to suit the status quo.

Now, some 36 years after the year Orwell seemingly picked at random for his title, much of his work's subject matter seems oddly naïve, almost run of the mill and pretty much what we have come to expect from life.

This collaboration between Northern Broadsides, The Dukes and Stroud Theatre Company still manages to make us feel uneasy but CCTV, ubiquitous television screens, universally soothing voices giving us commands everywhere we go, the seeming necessity to have to wage war against someone at any given time and the brutal tortures meted out to ensure a party line is towed are almost de rigeur.

Nick Haverson gives an exemplary performance as the unfortunate Winston Smith – that rarest of breeds in a society dictated to by Big Brother, he is a man with a memory, a curiosity and a conviction that things can be changed.

"Unorthodoxy is not illegal," we are told. "But it is punishable by death."

Little chance then that his love affair with the morally rebellious Julia (Kate Ambler) will prosper or indeed that anything is what seems. Never the easiest of novels to dramatise, the use of a Greek tragedy chorus on the one hand and modern perfectly timed animation sequences on the other add to the tension in a first rate production.