Taking on the literary giant that is George Orwell’s 1984 is a notoriously difficult task, and The Stevenage Lytton Youth Thursday Group have bitten off a little more than they can chew. To condense Orwell’s complex, dystopian vision into an hour-long play is an unenviable feat, and herein lies the biggest drawback of the performance. Indeed this highly accelerated version of the plot is misleading to the spectator that is unfamiliar with the novel, making prior knowledge of 1984 a serious advantage to those who attend.
The central characters seem to be somewhat lacking in confidence, diminishing the power of their rebellion against the silencing, tyrannical political authority.
The cast of eight effectively translates the surveillance state of 1984: the uniformed citizens of superstate Oceania blend into a mass of mindless subjects to ‘Big Brother’, the voice that controls their lives and minds. Indoctrinated, they routinely carry out hate sessions against the ideology of the enemy of the Party, Emmanuel Goldstein. This is effectively translated in the performance through thoughtful projection-work: in the play’s most poignant scene, images of Goldstein flit across the citizens’ faces as they break out into a cacophony of cries of hate symbolic of a screen-culture infecting their minds like a disease.
Only love presents a challenge to Oceania’s twisted state ideology and mind-warping. When Winston and Julia meet and fall in love, their perceptions of the state begin to change and they start to yearn for freedom. However, in this performance, the love story is not developed enough to invite genuine sympathy from the audience. The central characters seem to be somewhat lacking in confidence, diminishing the power of their rebellion against the silencing, tyrannical political authority.
Nonetheless, The Stevenage Lytton Youth Thursday Group are a promising group of young actors worth keeping an eye open for in years to come. Their desire to take on such a masterpiece is admirable and they succeed in confronting the audience with a series of key issues that Orwell predicted in 1949, and that are ever more applicable to society of today. The audience is left questioning the fate of humankind in a surveillance state, the dwindling regard for language in a technology-rich, globalised world, and the challenge of dwindling love and solidarity in a society where individualism is ever on the rise.