This production could be better named 1984 B.C. It is more visceral than clinical, more heart-washed than brain-washed: Big Brother is not obeyed, but adored with primordial passion.
Take the opening of the play, the notorious Two Minutes Hate sequence. Anya Meinhardt’s choreography jolts the actors into a sort of tribal ritual. Like broken metronomes, the Party members jaggedly beat their feet to the sound of hate and propaganda. Their physicality is impressively raw and earthly; one would think they were dancers from The Rite of Spring.
Our protagonist, Winston, and his lover, Julia, have one ruling motive in their relationship: sex. At first, Alice Porter as Julia flirts with a giggling innocence, yet soon enough she descends to dangerously pure nymphomania. There is not a hint of warmth in her words. She talks at break-neck speed. We can only conclude that she considers everything in between the lovemaking as immaterial. Harley Viveash’s lean and gawky Winston is apt. He, too, is lustful, not predatorily à la Julia, but more like a clumsy adolescent who has hired a prostitute.
Special praise must be accorded to Flo Brady, who plays, among other characters, Winston’s wife, Katharine. She makes the most striking, sculptural expressions of terror that are almost numbing. Despite such visual eloquence, then, it pains me to note that in speech she is entirely incomprehensible.
Many versions of Orwell’s 1984 speak of sterilisation; Luke Rollason, the production’s director, focuses on empowerment. The pillars of his dystopia are obsession and worship. Think of the tearful North Koreans with outstretched arms reaching for their dear Leader; Rollason has hit the heart of the matter.
1984 will run from 8th-11th May (Wednesday-Saturday of 3rd Week) in the Keble O’Reilly Theatre, with a 2.30pm Saturday matinee and 7.30pm start time each evening. Tickets are available from £5.
PHOTO / Alex Darby