Monday 20 September 2010 by Robin Duke

One of the most disturbing elements about any revival of George Orwell’s once bleakly futuristic vision of totalitarianism is just how much of what he viewed as unthinkably awful now seems almost mundanely acceptable.

This coming together of innovative theatre companies sees the nearest thing Big Brother’s society of Oceania has to an individual played with sometimes unnerving conviction by Nick Haverson. His Winston Smith is like a young Malcolm MacDowall, confused by his own fragmented memories and driven by a curiosity not yet bleached by the minimalism of New Speak and the constant re-writing of history he has to help with.
Kate Ambler (Julia) in 1984 at Duke's Theatre, Lancaster
Photo: Nobby Clark

Nick Lane’s adaptation of this stark vision on the one hand benefits from a typically Northern Broadsides use of a Greek tragedy chorus and on the other by some perfectly timed Rob Pointon and Karen Sayle animations.

The ubiquitous flickering tv screens which cannot be switched off and carry their soothing or savage messages are part CCTV and part public address systems - our norm, Winston’s downfall.

With little room for any other three dimensional performances Kate Ambler does well to make the morally flawed Julia love interest anything like convincing.

Even given the controlled performances of serial betrayers O’Brien (Chris Garner), Charrington (Andrew Price) and Goldstein (Steven Finegold) this remains as ever largely a one man show.

Haverson brilliantly executes the transformation of Winston - from curious to love struck, and from enlightened to bruatalised. The torture scenes are as effective as they are disturbing. Again not surprising to 2010 eyes but none the less a vision of something even Orwell may have blanched at