Headlong produces some radical and thought provoking productions and 1984 is no exception.
The production is book-ended by a reading group in 2050, discussing a diary written by a fictitious character called Winston. One of the members, however, is continuously having small flashbacks. He is in fact Winston, both subject and member of the group. As the past merges with the future, he seems to be writing in the diary '1984'.
Mark Arends portrays a Winston fearing for his life as he tries to express his hatred for the dictatorial government, Big Brother. He meets Julia, a rebel, played by a defiant Hara Yannas. They fall in love and decide to join O'Brien (played compellingly by Tim Dutton) and anti-Big Brother Brotherhood.
Directors Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillan have fantastically created the oppressive world of Oceania. The characters are like drones and moments are repeated as if on a loop. Big Brother is everywhere. It is hard to discuss how language and history are being destroyed, without the fear of being watched. The climax is the appearance of the sterile Room 101, which is literally mind blowing.
The themes of indoctrination and surveillance are striking, and it is disturbing to watch Neville and Julia on an overhead screen as if the audience is Big Brother. What is thought provoking, though, is that the production addresses the difference between fiction and reality. The play jumps between scenarios and the boundaries between reality, memory and the imaginary are blurred. It can be a bit disconcerting, especially if you are not familiar with the book.
That said, Headlong has produced an absorbing and enticing adaptation of George Orwell's classic. A must see from me. Top Price.
- David Jobson