Increasingly relevant in a digital age where almost every move we make is tracked, The Stevenage Lytton Youth Theatre Thursday Group’s choice to perform George Orwell’s 1984 at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe was apt to say the least.
The essence of 1984 was captured brilliantly by this young cast, who displayed a solid understanding of Orwell’s famous dystopian vision. Audiovisual effects added another dimension to the work and were evocative of the unrelenting presence of the telescreens – machines that watch your every move, hear your every word, and screech highly partisan news bulletins at regular intervals.
Imogen Bryan and Aaron Govey as the love-struck Julia and Winston provided a striking contrast to the grim London life of 1984, where Jess Rotthammer as Parsons and Ari Nassey as Sime each gave harrowing performances as victims of the totalitarian system.
Carl Ames, who played the flamboyant comrade Martin, and Chloe Oliver as the brainwashed youth Gladys provided welcome moments of dark humour – relief from the stony faces of the Thought Police – with admirable confidence and comic timing. Hannah Sorkin was sublime as the proletarian landlady, complete with Cockney accent and shameless singing. Poppy Byrne was chilling as the ruthless top-dog O’Brien. In an exciting and unexpected subversion of the original character, this O’Brien was both played by a woman and scripted as one, which offered an interesting dynamic.
Some practical aspects could have done with tightening, with a few hurried exchanges – potentially due to nerves – disrupting the otherwise stable pace. With anything as well-known and indeed as frequently done as 1984, one can’t help but feel that every step must be taken to ensure that nothing comes across trite, and with the story’s vast offering of ideas the theatrical possibilities really are endless. At times cautious, at others powerful and provoking, overall the group demonstrated a great deal of potential and should congratulate themselves on a believable and thoroughly enjoyable show.
George Orwell’s 1984 played at theSpace @ Surgeon’s Hall on 9 August 2014 as part of the Edinburgh Fringe.