by George Orwell adapted by Nick Lane.
Northern Broadsides Tour to 27 November 2010.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 9 November.
All the way from book to stage – and part way back as graphic novel.
This three-way production of George Orwell’s bleak political fable involves Northern Broadsides, Lancaster Duke’s and Stroud Theatre Company, whose Chris Garner plays apparatchik O’Brien and assists with direction.
With Nick Lane scripting it’s surprising his theatrical alma mater Hull Truck isn’t mentioned too. Lane’s certainly done a fine job. Even the group narration, which initially seems a clunky remainder from the novel, serves to give urgency to dramatised scenes, helping focus on significant moments.
Lane clarifies Orwell’s attack on power used for its own sake, at the expense of truth and humanity, while holding back on the love between Winston and Julia. For nearly half the evening he believes she is a sinister presence. When her motive for hanging around him becomes clear, Kate Ambler’s rough-edged, playful, ever-active character contrasts Winston’s deliberative manner and prevents over-romanticising.
Lane also holds back on the extracts from Goldstein’s rebel tract; rather than expounding its political philosophy at length, he allows just enough to indicate why it’s a forbidden book. A number of narrative elements are similarly sidelined to create a compact, forceful focus (in Manchester another adaptation recently played for 3 hours) on the point of Orwell’s original title, ‘The Last Man in Europe’.
That man, Nick Haverson’s Winston Smith, is perpetually anxious. Despite his uniform overalls his individual consciousness gnaws at him, as he sits cramped in a corner of his room writing an illicit diary. Conrad Nelson’s production moves events with a sense of inevitability, only losing energy between the later physical torture scenes.
They are the trickiest part of 1984 to stage, and the video animation of a shock-meter trembling towards maximum intensifies the sense of pain. Throughout, Sue Condie’s design, an expressionist jumble of subdued colours, is augmented by images, from John Branwell’s Big Brother frowning from posters to the colour images of escape, and black-and-white graphics of straight-lined skyscraper Ministries looming above the human jumble.
Such graphic images as Goldstein morphing into a ravening beast, or the splash of red that becomes associated with Julia, interact with the capable performances to give compressed force to this inventive production.
Winston: Nick Haverson.
Julia: Kate Ambler.
O’Brien: Chris Garner.
Charrington: Andrew Price.
Katherine: Carolyn Tomkinson.
Big Brother: John Branwell.
Goldstein: Steven Finegold.
Announcer: Jill McCleary.
Director/Composer: Conrad Nelson.
Designer: Sue Condie.
Lighting: Brent Lees.
Animation: Rob Pointon, Karen Sayle, Louise Hodkiss.
Audio-visual: David Phillips.
Assistant director: Chris Garner.