venue: QUARRY THEATRE, WEST YORKSHIRE PLAYHOUSE – LEEDS (HEADLONG)
ticket price £17
Smoothering, disorientating and provocative, this is far from conventional story-telling. While the thread of Orwell’s story runs through the play it’s more concerned with the world it inhabits, playing with the language, challenging the nature of memory and chronology, and tilting the mirror of the post-1984 ‘real world’ back at us through the resonant device of a book club discussing Winston Smith’s diary as a historical artefact.
The intricacy of the production is subtly illustrated in a daily lunch routine. The scene is repeated in word and action until, after one of the characters ‘disappears’, all happens as before with the characters suddenly disorientated that their mechanical reactions are somehow inappropriate but apparently unable to recognise why.
Meanwhile, the screens that haunt Winston’s daily existence–that drive him to such despair as to promise to throw sulphuric acid in the face of a child if the Brotherhood required it–cleverly foretell his downfall. When he and his lover, the co-conspirator Julia, believe they are safe from the cameras in their small rented room we’re actually watching them on a giant screen, making the audience the characters’ oppressors. They become aware that they have been discovered when their world literally comes crashing down as the set collapses to transform into Winston’s own Room 101.
Having been all too aware of the parallels between Orwell’s world and our own, the remove that the book club’s comfortable reflection on a world left behind has a hint of redemptive relief. It’s more a warning siren against complacency.