Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds

Friday 12 November 2010

In 1949, George Orwell’s bleak vision of the state control in the 1980s seemed almost unthinkable. In his vision of 1984, government spin, PR speak, and CCTV surveillance would become prevalent, now while thinks haven’t become as dark as his novel envisaged many of his predictions were uncannily accurate.

Nick Haverson, Chris Garner and Andrew Price in 1984

It makes the piece timely and relevant and in Northern Broadsides clear adaptation never more accessible.

Nick Lane’s adaptation of Orwell concentrates on narrative drive and clarity, using a chorus of ‘comrades’ to narrate the tale of Winston Smith, a clerk working in the Ministry of Truth rewriting archive newspapers to fit the State's changing position. It’s a device that works well, enabling the small cast to convey the sense of conformity and repetition that prevails in this micro-managed society. Freedom of thought is a dangerous deviation that needs to be extinguished.

Director Conrad Nelson’s production is fast and frantic but still allows time for the audience to engage with Winston, his fleeting love with fellow free spirit Julia and his ultimate mental destruction by Big Brother. Nick Haverson as Winston anchors the entire piece, firstly opening up to freedom of free thought before being crushed by the state. Kate Ambler as his love interest Julia and Chris Garner as devious O’Brien also give memorable central performances however the whole ensemble works well so credit must also go to Andrew Price and Carolyn Tomkinson

Credit should also be given to the design team of Sue Condle, Brent Lees, Rob Pointon, Karen Sayle, Louise Hodkiss and David Phillips for creating a highly effective multi-media setting. In the surveillance state, their multiangled set leaves no corner in which to hide with multiple video screens not only broadcasting state propaganda but also giving an animated insight into the mind of Winston. It is easy for multimedia to detract and overwhelm a production but here it is a perfect marriage, charcoal drawn animations blending seamlessly with the onstage actors to create a truly memorable staging.

1984 may have come and gone without the apocalyptic vision Orwell foresaw coming true but this outstanding production should be compulsory viewing for all politicians and spin doctors as a warning of the dangers of State control.