Venue: Theatre Royal
Rating: * * *
It occurred to me before watching the performance how difficult it must be to adapt ‘1984’ to the stage – a book so ingrained in both popular culture and the public consciousness. George Orwell’s dystopian novel portrays a bleak vision of a future in which a totalitarian regime suppresses personal freedom and civil liberties, and one man’s attempt at rebellion.
What I could recall from my reading of the book was rendered faithfully in Nick Lane’s adaptation, which was performed by the York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre. The young cast were versatile (some played multiple roles, others complex characters) and, fittingly, the lead and supporting lead performances were those which stood out most.
The stage was dominated by sterile, grey scenery and the omnipresent ‘Telescreen’, with the face of the tyrannical ‘Big Brother’ monitoring the characters’ daily lives. Minimal lighting increased the mood of paranoia.
The performance had a contemporary feel, reflecting the enduring influence of Orwell’s vision. The director, Owen Calvert-Lyons, said of the production ‘We’ve chosen to make it a nightmare version of our future…2084 if you like.’ At the close, the protagonist, Winston Smith’s sinister, smiling apology and declaration of love for Big Brother, takes place ‘24 years later’ – in the present year.
The production was convincing, without being over-ambitious.