During a year of politics in which George Orwell’s 1984 has been constantly referenced and drawn parallels with, an adaptation of the novel for the stage is always an intriguing prospect. The King’s School’s production takes the most sinister aspects of the novel and runs with them, focusing on the violence and cruelty.
As Winston rebels against Big Brother with Julia, the play quickly becomes darker, culminating in a scene of torture which is admittedly hard to watch. Although the prominence which this violence is given serves to make a point about the cruelty of Big Brother and a totalitarian government, there are times when the transparency and the graphic way in which this torture plays out on stage serves to detract from the original impact of Orwell’s words.
The most effective parts of the adaptation are when it focusses on the words of newspeak and the destruction of language. The focus on this sort of systemic violence from the government is more effective than the perhaps slightly too-graphic sound effects that denote Winston’s torture.
There are clever details running throughout the play which add intrigue to this adaptation. The show opens with the novel’s final scene, with Winston begging for mercy. This adds to the tension of the play, as we know throughout that we are waiting for the inevitable. The recurring melody of ‘Oranges and Lemons’ also adds something sinister to the play, as it is brought to Winston in eerie and pervasive way, the lyrics foreshadowing his doom.
Some stand-out performances also shine through in this adaptation, with impressive portrayals of protagonist Winston and the mysterious and aloof O’Brien. Winston’s struggle and inner turmoil under Big Brother are very convincing, delivering raw emotion in the most brutal scenes.
Clever directing choices are also clear, as an attention to detail is obvious in the movements of the ensemble, who are often involved in the background, making each scene interesting.
Although this adaptation of 1984 chooses a rather obvious way in which to tell the novel, it is effective in what it does, exhibiting some promising acting talent.
1984 played at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.