1984 – Friday 24th and Sat 25th May, 2019
Any piece of writing, or film, about the future inevitably meets its day of reckoning, when the future becomes the present. 1984 was first published in 1949, thirty-five years prior to the title date. We are now thirty- five years after that title date. A quirk of auspicious, serendipitous, synchronicity for this new production of Orwell’s masterpiece by the Contemporary Theatre students, Derby University productions.
Behind the Arras was privileged to meet the production team and cast, as rehearsals for the show reached their climax. It is a measure of the credibility of Derby’s Artistic Director Sarah Brigham, and Director Amanda Wallace, that they secured the rights to put on the play, adapted and written by Nick Lane, from the notoriously demanding Rights Holders.
Lane is an actor turned director, as well as playwright. From 2006-2014 he was the Associate Director and Literary Manager of Hull Truck Theatre, a company with which he has had a long association and with whom he shares a connection with Sarah Brigham.
Sarah and Amanda were at pains to emphasise that the power and importance of this production is that it is the student’s show which aims to educate, inform and entertain a fresh audience. The young actors are responding to a historic piece about the future, now. The set design is also student produced, complete with screens for the slogans, which have now entered the English Language in their own right ( Big Brother is Watching You), and audio visual backdrops.
Orwell wrote the book in Jura, a remote Scottish island, whilst recovering from tuberculosis, at the end of the Second World War. A time when the Nagasaki and Hiroshima nuclear bombs threatened global apocalypse, and the world was dominated by men, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt, the great war victors. Chelsea Forde, who plays Julia, emphasised her determination to put a 20th century female imprint on her role for a story in which the other female characters fight for prominence.
Director Amanda has sought to redress this gender imbalance by creating an all- female team of narrators amongst the fifteen strong cast who also serve to inject energy and colour into a sometimes otherwise bleak dystopian vision. She commented that the book transfers to stage well, three hundred pages condensed to a running time of around two hours.
Ewan McConnachie plays Winston, and observed that the future Orwell warned about is the reality for young people now, with twenty- four hour surveillance, ubiquitous CCTV, and computer farming of users data the norm. He commented that for a 21st Century audience the story, as warning, is as relevant now, as it was then. But now it is as much about complacency with what is here now, as about what is to come.
Some stories beg for re-evaluation and reinterpreting. 1984 is one of them. How does the imagined world of Winston Smith, and his choices, shape up seventy years later? Is the spy O’Brien irredeemably malevolent, or is he too a victim? How would Feminism shape Julia’s outlook? I cannot wait to have these, and other, questions answered when the show opens on Friday 24th May. Thanks to Sarah Brigham and Amanda Wallace for offering me access to the creative process for this important new production which promises so much.