“Big Brother is watching you.” CCTV cameras, flashing lights, a projection screen that covered an entire wall of the stage set; who was being watched? The actors or the audience members? Luke Rollason’s production of 1984 is one that highlights and links the relevance of the voyeuristic aspects of a totalitarian regime to the increase of surveillance usage in modern society. The result; an adaptation which focuses on the visual omnipotence of Big Brother, making the individual a collective and the emotional the pragmatic… or perhaps not.
Although the chemistry between Alice Porter, playing Julia, and Harley Viveash as Winston, was one that had the audience wriggling their seats, at times the focus on Winston’s emotional numbness that he struggles to heal, is replaced by scenes of lust and sexual desperation, which does stray from Orwell’s pragmatic descriptions of their love scenes within the novel. In this sense, it created an uncomfortable couple of minutes and felt a little like a sensationalist adaptation chosen to make entertaining theatre.
But, it could also be said that this was done in order to create a human and emotional side to Winston, which was contrasted to the ensemble scenes; one of the highlights of the production that proved to be incredibly robotic and effective. This then leads me to mention and commend the cast for its crucial role in bringing the world of 1984 before the audience; particularly Harley Viveash who excellently portrayed the troubled Winston, Florence Brady who carried out her multi-role slickly and credibly, and finally Frederick Bowerman as O’Brien whose dominant stage presence, focus and voice made me feel as though I was under Big Brother’s scrutiny and could be dragged to Room 101 at any moment.
This talent, alongside the visual technology used, were truly the most engaging aspects of the production. The traverse staging, the replacing of the bed quilt to reflect either Winston’s scratchy solitude or his colourful relationship with Julia, were then stamped upon with banners of Big Brother and the hospital bed; in the end, bringing Orwell’s dystopia to the eyes and ears of a modern audience, who walked away wondering whether this could happen in 2031.
PHOTO / Alex Darby