Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Big Brother Is Watching You!

 Photo Credit: Headlong

Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan's adaptation of George Orwell's 1984 is currently playing at York Theatre Royal until Saturday 20th September 2014.  Headlong, known for its eclectic and contemporary theatre, produced 1984 in partnership with Nottingham Playhouse and Almeida Theatre.  This production ran at London's Playhouse in the West End this year before embarking on this current UK Tour.

The story, based unusually on a novel's appendix and set in the future, is about Winston Smith who works in the Ministry of Truth and defies the Government. Oceania, an oppressive and totalitarian Government who watches everyone's moves and thoughts 24/7 including Winston's.  Winston falls in love with Julia, a fellow servant to the totalitarian state, the forbidden love between the couple leads to their dystopic attitudes to defy Oceania but only for both of them to face Big Brother's consequences.

Matthew Spence excellently plays a brave Winston who endures the brutality of Oceania and defies them with his feel thought crime,  his written records and his questioning of Goldstein's Book.  Tim Dutton ideally portrays the Big Brother's interrogator and successfully drives Winston into submission with psychological abuse, torture and quashing his 'resistance' in exchange to accepting 'BlackWhite' and 'DoubleThink' in Room 101.

The interesting seances of chocolate rationing, the child's whistle blowing, as per the Youth League's responsibility, and the general ideology Oceania is promoting.  The characters, played by an exceptional cast, submissively go about their tasks on stage whether by robotic movements or speaking guarded 'Newspeak' ambiguous limited vocabulary. Proves how much power Big Brother has over them!

Chloe Lamford's staging is considered some of the most stunning and powerful staging ever shown on stage.  The design team of Lamford (set and costume), Natasha Chivers (lighting), Tom Gibbons (sound) and Tim Reid (video) have put together a staging with elements suited for the play's mood and themes.  The thunderous and dramatic soundscapes are intensely felt in the audience with its equally powerful bright, flashing and fluorescent lighting with the building tensions between Winston and Oceania.  The use of telescreens ensures Big Brother's control of surveillance including Winston's and Julia's private time together.  The futuristic, clinical and haunting Room 101 was fitting for the scene when Winston is interrogated and tortured for his dissent activity.

A bold and thought provoking adaptation which explores surveillance, information management, identity and censorship which are very important to today's society as much as Orwell's prediction at the time of writing this book in 1949.  Further information about 1984 can be found here.

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