It is frightening how Orwell’s nightmarish dystopia continues to ring true, year after year. From Winston’s colleague Syme (Liam McKinnes) exclaiming delightedly ‘It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words’, to the proletariat being described as subhuman, those who go against the Party as a stain to be wiped out, even Winston’s desire to sexually violate Julia before murdering her...
Just as relevant today as it was when the novel was first published.
As in the original novel, we begin on a bright, cold day in April, with the clocks striking thirteen. We are not initially addressed by Winston (Orlando Giannini), however, but by George Orwell himself (Joshua Brooks), who sometimes speaks in unison with his protagonist, establishing the world as Winston secretly writes in his diary. As Winston’s story unfolds projections establish our location, as well as showing Party broadcasts, and the screen where Winston works to correct the facts at the Ministry of Truth. Credit must be given here to Oscar Richardson for brilliantly evoking the bleak, controlled world of the piece with the use of projections as well as the deep red lighting for the Two Minute Hate, and the continued updates from the telescreen (Olivia Attwood). The minimal set design, though with brilliantly detailed props such as a bottle of Victory Gin, meant that the space was used excellently, from Party members emerging from all sides to join in the Two Minute Hate, or when the cast move their chairs in unison for scenes in the Ministry of Truth’s canteen. It is in these scenes in particular that Syme, Parsons (Jack Coombs) and Ampleforth (Benjamin Crossley) shine, as they express triumph at public hangings, and Parsons’ daughter’s willingness to denounce people to the Thought Police for wearing the wrong kind of shoes. The conflict of Julia (Maddie Dunn) is also shown in these scenes, where she mocks the proles along with her fellow workers, yet eagerly denounces the Party when she and Winston are alone and, they think, in private. The relationship between Winston and Julia is an unsettling and all-consuming one, and Giannini and Dunn did well in capturing this, especially when the Thought Police catch up to them.
In the scenes that follow, with Max Thomas’ O’Brien torturing Winston and trying to ‘cure’ him of his hatred for Big Brother, both Thomas and Giannini delivered truly chilling performances. Thomas portrays O’Brien’s fanatical dedication with frightening ease and calm, especially when trying to get Winston to admit that two plus two doesn’t always equal four, while Giannini’s screams of fear and pain, and his pleading with O’Brien, perfectly captured his character’s desperation. 1984 is a bleak and frightening piece not just for these scenes, but it is a piece that is well worth watching - just as relevant today as it was when the novel was first published.