Saturday, 14 September 2013

1984, at Nottingham Playhouse

I read this book over 10 years ago, so I can't recall if it's a faithful or literal adaptation of the novel, but faithful or not this new play, a collaboration between Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company and Headlong certainly captures the stiflingly oppressive atmosphere of one of the English Language's most important books.  I remember there being more roaming in the Ghettos and Ulcers in the book but that's probably best left out...

Using a combination of high-frequency noises, static, floodlights and really innovative live projection equipment, the production makes it feel less like you are watching a play of 1984 and more like you are in it. The lights and noises are uncomfortably intense and disorientating and do an incredible job of showing Comrade 6079, Winston Smith's mental state and his confusion- it becomes impossible to know what's real, what's new and what's repeated, what's memory, what's imagined and what's just plain old lies.

This  adaptation focuses not on the gigantic eyes of Big Brother, surveillance personified, gazing down on the individual but on the tiny and insignificant eyes of the minority of one, gazing up.  Looking hard at Big Brother, being baffled and full of silent rage.  It's not about the watchers, it's about the watched.  Or the possibly watched, or the threat of being watched.  Personally I don't know what's so special about Winston. I don't know why the Party are so interested in him and why they become so intent on his destruction.  He's one man.  Yes, he believes himself to be a part of the Brotherhood, the organisation dedicated to destroying the Party that may or may not exist, but he knows he will never meet any other members. There's no way that his rebellious fire could possibly burn any body else.  He associates with few people, none of whom he likes, and he's hardly a leader of men.

For the unfamiliar, the world of 1984 is one of paranoia, propaganda and fear. 'Newspeak', the only language in the world with a shrinking vocabulary, is being rolled out by The Party, its intention is to eliminate rebellion and anarchy. If you have no terms in which to describe these behaviours and to discuss the acts themselves, anarchy and rebellion will cease to exist. To even think in terms of non-conformism is punishable by death, or more commonly, disappearance. That's Winston's job. To modify historical records, newspapers, documents, photographs, all physical evidence of existence to match the preferred history of the Party. If you are ever wiped from existence, it will be Winston or one of his colleagues that presses delete.

Not to give too much away, Winston's own personal act of rebellion is to fall in love, something which is forbidden. It's dangerous and it's life threatening and it's the beginning of a series of events that will lead to betrayal. double agency and to the most famous room in literature.

Excellent, intense performances, particularly from Mark Arends who progresses from bored malcontent to ruined mess and some of the most creative production I've seen. The nightmarish sequences in the Ministry of Love and the destruction of the last piece of unobserved haven in the world are done so, so effectively it's impossible to explain. The Henry James-esque contextualisation bookending the narrative were excellent, if that's an addition made by the director it was a stroke of absolute genius- people do have a tendency to over analyse the historical words of the miserable and this was acknowledged so stylishly.

Go see it, then you'll know what I mean. At Nottingham playhouse from Friday 13-Saturday 28 September -

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