Based on George Orwell’s famed novel, 1984 is a compelling piece of theatre about an oppressive regime in a fictional super-state called Oceania – where big brother is watching you all the time and loyalty to the Party is paramount. The central question for protagonist Winston Smith and his sweetheart Julia is – whom should they trust?
Smith is a thinker who instinctively resents round-the-clock surveillance, and wonders what life was like before the Party (IngSoc, short for English Socialism) took over government. He works in the records department, rewriting history, but he distrusts the endless propaganda about military victories – and dreams of freedom without ever having truly experienced it. Scott Roberts gives a convincing portrayal of a man who in normal society would have been really quite conventional.
Julia is in a sense more complex, playing a dangerous game with the authorities while also trying to be true to herself. She wears a red sash which symbolises her membership of the Anti-Sex League, but she’s a ‘rebel from the waist down.’ Charlotte Anne Atkinson plays the vivacious and enigmatic young Julia with spirit.
Acting and direction are good; the set is versatile and location clever. Matthew Dunster adapted the play for the stage and directed the first production at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, but Nicholas Richards deserves the credit for directing this Fringe production.
While 1984 is not a play that you’re necessarily meant to enjoy, it does give a rare insight into totalitarian states and the ‘thought police’ that assume the right to control behaviour and reform character. Do be aware, it’s not for the faint-hearted, with distressing scenes throughout the second half.