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1984

Published by: Kirstie Niland on 3rd Oct 2014 | View all blogs by Kirstie Niland
The Grand Theatre, Blackpool

George Orwell’s novel set in Oceania - a totalitarian state which is permanently at war under the rule of Big Brother - had me gripped as a student in the days before mobile phones and webcams existed. Imagine a place where everyone is under surveillance, where people can be deleted, where you are never alone, not even in your head.

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I was excited to see how this could be brought to life on stage and still do George Orwell justice and I wasn’t disappointed. This is an incredible performance, which violently brings home the fact that Orwell's fearful predictions when he wrote Nineteen-Eighty Four 65 years ago have become very real indeed. We may not have the Thought Police on our case just yet but one thing is for certain...freedom is most definitely close to slavery in 2014. 

“Doublethink” is exactly how I feel about today’s Big Brother, and how it has become the norm for our private lives to be exposed, both voluntarily and unwillingly. I hate it but it’s horribly compelling. Whilst today’s all-consuming desire is to give public narrations of our life on social media, I’m sure most of us are uncomfortable with being monitored in ways we know about, like CCTV and Google, and in many we’re probably not even aware of. So much contradition.

Contemporary doublethink, terrifyingly two-faced. Just like the nightmarish scene where O’Brian, brilliantly orchestrated by Tim Dutton, exposes Winston for his willingness to commit heinous acts for the Inner Party in order to bring Big Brother down. Winston has been unknowingly filmed confirming he would throw sulphuric acid in a child’s face, admitting he is willing to do anything except be separated from his lover and partner in crime Julia. Both hero and anti-hero. Dutton conducts the audience with aplomb during the dramatic crescendo, where the lights come up and he breaks the fourth wall to include us in condemning Winston. As he cowers in the spotlight of shame, you feel not only Winston's humiliation but also revulsion that he is prepared to maim a child yet woud fulfil his own needs. You also feel like a voyeur, like you shouldn’t be involved at all.

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This hard-hitting scene alone is worthy of the critical acclaim received for Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s adaptation of George Orwell’s dystopian novel. That, and the cast of Headlong, Nottingham Playhouse and Almeida Theatre. The eight adults and one child create nail-biting suspense and tension amidst the confusion of flashing lights, black-outs and dreamlike scenes. Matthew Spencer is entirely credible as Winston in his blend of bravery and cowardice, and Janine Harouni as Julia manages to display detachment and neediness without it seeming contradictory. In Winston's words: "only a rebel from the waist downwards."

As for the set – pure genius. The play begins in a deliberately dreary archives office filled with books, and Winston and Julia’s scenes in the back room they believe is private are played on the backdrop like an old movie from a projector. Their sudden exposure and capture surrounded by the loud confusion of white noise and blinding lights is accompanied by a jolting set transformation. Winston reappears strapped to a seat in the stark white Room 101 where he is tortured into betraying Julia, his blood a bright red splash on the set, like the scarlet dress Julia wears after she becomes his lover. Big Brother finally succeeds in deleting their bond when he threatens to let rats eat Winston’s face and he shouts: “Do it to Julia!”. As Julia says when they meet, brainwashed, after their mutual betrayal and surrender: "And after that, you don't feel the same towards the person any longer."

This production of 1984 is more than just a masterpiece of theatre, it also poses a chilling question about our own society. Is freedom slavery? Was George Orwell right in his predictions? I think he probably was. DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER!

1984 is on at the Grand Theatre Blackpool until Saturday 4 October

Tickets from £18.50 (£1.50 booking fee is applies)

Call the Box Office on 01253 74 33 39 or visit blackpoolgrand.co.uk

 

 

Comments

3 Comments

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 3 years ago
    Thanks, Kirstie. This sounds amazing. A very exciting production. Is it touring further?
  • Kirstie Niland
    by Kirstie Niland 3 years ago
    It's one of the most gripping live performances I've ever seen. It is touring further, details here http://headlong.co.uk/work/1984/venues/
  • Kirstie Niland
    by Kirstie Niland 3 years ago
    You'll be pleased to hear that someone booked to see this at the Grand after reading my review :-)
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