Edinburgh Fringe 2012
This is a well directed piece with some interesting dramaturgy. It does a good job of transposing the key elements and atmosphere of Orwell’s classic to the stage.
The actors stand in their underwear on stage, behind them is a ‘telescreen’ with Big Brother’s looming face in black and white as his subjects resound the commands of the dystopic regime of Oceania. The stage then becomes an office environment using light wooden crates, they tap keys and murmur the meticulous, dredge-like work of the authorities. Amongst them is Winston Smith, the protagonist, an ordinary subject who secretly has subversive ambitions.
Using Matthew Dunster’s adaptation, this company have visualized the key parts of the story very well. If one has read the book it would all make a lot more sense, but even if one hasn’t there is just enough to keep one absorbed. The level of tension does wax and wane, with some of the longer scenes dragging a little. Sound and music are used effectively to heighten and create atmosphere. The live band are very good but underused, I felt that they could have played more, particularly in some of the longer duologues to heighten the action.
The wooden boxes are used for many things including desks, barriers, lunch-boxes and even a clock tower; and the simple, rough wood is an interesting symbol of a simpler, past lifestyle. The ‘Proles’ are also somewhat reassuring as recognizable human beings amongst BB’s automatons. The audio effects are suitably menacing and alien, more so than the screen visuals due to their faceless nature.
This production is strongest in the ensemble scenes, with all the actors devoted and enthusiastic. The scene close to the beginning when there is an almost maniacally fawning outburst to BB is powerful. The scenes at lunch and in the office are empowered by the collective focus of the actors, who have clearly worked hard. The final scenes are dramatic and finely directed as the tension is ratcheted, and the scene in Room 101 is terrifying. In parts however the acting is below par, with the energy significantly dropping, and the audience becoming restless. O’Brien’s performance is good, though rushed at times. Kate Hesketh as the sassy Julia brings energy and confidence to the role.
Having read the book I didn’t feel this was a particularly original production, but in a way that’s the point – The imagery and plot of the book are so strong that they should be relatively easy to imagine on stage, and this company have done that very well. They have a lot to be proud of but there isn’t enough to make this a memorable production.