BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU!
BY: RYAN M LUÉVANO
George Orwell’s seminal work 1984 leaps out of the book and onto The Broad Stage in Santa Monica in this thrilling production by the Headlong, Nottingham Playhouse and Almeida Theatre from the UK. This gripping adaptation created by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan recounts Orwell’s dystopian novel conjuring a world where citizens are constantly watched by the totalitarian state known as Big Brother. This play dares to pose the question: What if the freedom to think did not exist and someone was monitoring our every move? A question that hits close to home in our modern society where data is constantly being collected, stored and shared online through our daily interactions with social media platforms and the like.
This production of 1984 is raw, shocking and all consuming—once the house lights go down audiences are plunged into a bottomless pit of anxiety, despair and false hope. Using cutting edge technology of lighting (Natasha Chivers), sound (Tom Gibbons) and video (Tim Reid) audiences are subjected to a sensory experience that is nothing short of amazing and disquieting at the same time. As we follow the story of the protagonist Winston and his impending doom we experience scenes and moments that are punctuated with intense bursts of light towards the audience, often with high pitched screeches as if forcing mental photographs upon our minds. This combined with the used of video footage projected on back wall makes for a presentation with a cinematic flare that is wildly imaginative and profound.
The direction by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan further adds to the static environment and mystification represented by the Inner Party and the Thought Police in the story. The cast effectively exhibits robotic mannerisms while the traditional principles of theater blocking are suspended to create tableaux reminiscent of mannequins walking on stage. We see actors standing in profile, with their backs to the audience and other angles that are not germane to the traditional staging. All of this serves to focus the drama taking audiences deeper in the society of 1984 and further from our own reality.
Winston (Matthew Spencer) expertly plays the antihero, the phlegmatic everyman who we want to succeed, but deep down know that success is not in the in his making. Spencer performance is fresh and honest—he draws us through his plight without giving anything away. Winston’s cunning love interest Julia (Hara Yannas) is our tether to the past to what was good and real before society was overtaken by the Inner Party. Yannas offer a dynamic performance that ranges from stern to passionate, she’s the show’s beacon of hope—the lady in red that you can can’t help but fall in love. The strongest character is the powerful O’Brien (Tim Dutton) a member of the Inner Party who deceives Winston, then brainwashes him for the remainder of the play. Dutton’s O’Brien is specular his character develops in reverse manner coming apart at the seams by the end of the show—he’s an enigma, a tormentor and much like the Inner Party his existence is debatable.
1984 is not for the faint of heart, it’s not a cheery Mary Poppins type of story—it’s a theatrical experience that forces you think, feel and reconsider your perception of the world in which we live. For a society that is becoming evermore numb to reality given the amount of information that flood our screens daily, this immersive production shakes you back into to reality using innovative and familiar theatrical devices and storytelling techniques. 1984 runs from Jan 8-Feb 6. 2016 at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, for more information and tickets visit: www.thebroadstage.com.