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Conrad Nelson On...1984

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Northern Broadsides' Associate Director and performer Conrad Nelson is about to tour a new production of George Orwell's 1984. He recently acted alongside Lenny Henry in a well received adaptation of Othello which transferred to London's West End.

What attracted you to 1984?

The evocative nature of the title. In practical terms:  a pleasing multi-role challenge for the actors, a single narrative line and the call for audio visual content which the co-production team have never attempted before.

With so many parallels to contemporary society within the text, have you updated the piece in anyway?
This is a cautionary tale set sometime in a possible  future; a tale of what may befall us. The audience will watch the play and make their own contemporary parallels. We will present a drama which aims to capture the spirit of the book. The period is not particularly 1949 (when it was written) nor is it a comment on any specific despotic regime. To limit thus would seem to distract from the impact of the book.
As a director, what do you hope to bring to 1984?
The spirit of the novel to the a stage. We have a bespoke visual journey created by a small animation team who are, as we speak producing a series of hand drawn, stop-frame animation sequences for the performance. These charcoal sketched moving images will work alongside the live action as an interpretive and dramatic tool. The nature of this animation requires the systematic destruction or replacement of image on one piece of paper. The future has been re-written by the destruction of the past in  parallel with one of the main themes of the book.

You starred with Lenny Henry in Othello which transferred to The Trafalgar Studios. What was that like?
Teriffic. I lived in London for many years but never experience the joy of a longish run ‘in town’. Great company, good audience reaction and my first trip to ‘The Groucho’ – very nice.
Does directing give you a better understanding of acting as a craft when you swap hats and star in a production?
Yes. You begin to look at the play as a symphony and not as a series of solo instrumental parts.

NB's Canterbury Tales might have upset purists but it pleased newcomers. What do you enjoy about updating classic pieces and what's the motivation behind it?
I didn’t know that it upset purists. It was a contemporary translation of the text by Mike Poulton who is a scholar sympathetic to the language and the meter of the original.  The tales were staged without any technology (lights apart of course) and could have been told exactly the same way when Chaucer first put pen to paper. I would maintain that it pleased purists and newcomers alike – it seemed too.

What's next after 1984?
In the New Year I will be starting work on the Northern Broadsides production of Hamlet.

Conrad Nelson was speaking to Glenn Meads.

1984 runs at the Dukes Theatre, Lancaster from 16 September - 9 October.


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