I knew I would like to direct 1984. I have been a repeat reader of George Orwell’s vision of the future since being a teenager, and my love of the world of Oceania (and the power-state of INGSOC) has never faded from my imagination. It is a dark novel. Perhaps all the darker for how much we recognise in our modern society. The frightening aspect of Orwell’s contemplation of a decade forty years in the future, is that many of his ideas become prophetic.
Truth and freedom are as glorious now as they were in the 40s, and the stunning spin of political agenda and control increasingly more persistent in OUR age of uniformity, newspeak (text speak) and surveillance. Big Brother is indeed watching us, and those that speak out place themselves in exile – to all intents and purposes they are, to use Orwell’s vernacular, unpersoned.
So last summer I set my mind to bringing this to life with the company. I read several adaptations and this particular adaptation, that you will be seeing this evening, felt (for me) the closest to Orwell’s original text. Matthew Dunster has superbly drawn on the key elements of the narrative while working towards a truly gut-wrenching end for Winston Smith that resonates deep with our senses of empathy and fear. The atmospheric punch I was looking for.
Winston is not a particularly likeable protagonist – he is an Everyman of his society. He must make choices. Dunster did not strive to work emotionally for the audience to find him likeable. He kept Winston solidly at the heart of the story, and through the same distressing vein that Orwell so remarkably engineers his readers through. Winston fantasises about murder, rape, and will so instantly drop all goodness to get to the truth. He is not likeable… And yet, we are with him on a journey of self-discovery. And we empathise with his breaking.
Why? Perhaps because we all know that there is not one of us who is ultimately likeable. It is human to be multiple things at once. And when we see Winston in his agony we see the real face of humanity screaming for it to be someone else.
This production attempted as solidly as possible to bring Dunster’s script to life, with the echoes from the pages of 1984 bubbling ever in the background.
There were warnings on the publicity for this show, and I made no apology if the audience did not heed them. Their own curiosity brought them to the show, and if this show should become their Room 101 then so be it.
After all, ignorance is strength.