GEORGE ORWELL’S 1984
adapted by Matthew Dunster.
Royal Exchange Theatre To 27 March 2010.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm Sat 8pm Mat Wed 2.30pm Sat 4pm.
BSL Signed 23 March.
Post-show Discussion 18 March.
Runs 3hr One interval.
TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 13 March.
Grandly theatrical newspeak and doublethink.
2009’s 1984 lasted under two-and-a-half hours, with a total cast of seven. 2010’s runs three hours with seventeen on stage. If Blind Summit’s version had the advantages of wit and ensemble cohesion, Matthew Dunster’s Royal Exchange production of his own adaptation gives a sense of encompassing a whole society, starting with the production line at that factory of lies, the Ministry of Truth.
Writing in his dying months, on a remote Scottish island, Orwell was understandably depressed. In Europe he’d seen one set of dictatorships replaced with another, while his work at the BBC, in television’s early days, made the idea of screens in the home a natural means of spying on and controlling people.
Dunster makes several things clear, including the analogy between Winston Smith, “the last man” on an earth filled with the brainwashed, and Orwell, who’d stood out against socialist as well as conservative orthodoxies. It’s easy to descry the author in Jonathan McGuinness’s tall, slender, long-faced Winston.
Who must be a cinch for detection by the Thought Police. From the opening, as the assembly line is pushed onstage, he’s the one sitting at an angle, examining his sole, and last to join the cheering crowds at the telescreen. He may be a political naysayer, but Dunster makes clear his partner in thought-crime, Julia, isn’t. She just wants sex (utterly forbidden as too human) and sees Winston as rebel enough to assent.
The production works best in big staging moments, supremely when the neutral floor beneath the feet of this uniformed society rises to reveal the ironically pristine pit on which it’s based, a place of torture and terror where Matthew Flynn’s O’Brien shows calm ruthlessness.
Quieter sections come across as more routine. Apart from the quietest and apparently least theatrical, where Julia sleeps while Winston reads a dissident political tract. This transforms into a lecture, which Paul Moriarty delivers with clarity and intensity, illuminating the pathway to Newspeak and Doublethink – including the chilling statistic that a ruling 2% needs to control just another 13% of the population to keep absolute power. It makes you think.
Winston: Jonathan McGuinness.
Julia: Caroline Bartleet.
O’Brien/Pub Barman/Ensemble: Matthew Flynn.
Syme/Gambling Prole/Ensemble: Jamie de Courcey.
Parsons/Gambling Prole/Ensemble: Ian Midlane.
Mrs Parsons/Face Painted Prostitute/Ensemble: Alice Selwyn.
Mother/Starved Young Woman/Ensemble: Danièle Lydon.
Old Prole/Goldstein/Ensemble: Paul Moriarty.
Charrington/Thought Police Agent/Ensemble: Richard Clews.
Martin/Bumstead/Ensemble: Adam Venus.
Ensemble: Max Caldicott, Rebecca Gleeson, Blaire Harthern, Howard Hutt, Katrine Innes, Majid Mehoizadeh, Laura-Marie Ring.
The Parsons’ Daughter: Harriet Dean/Caitlain Earnshaw/Ellen Gallagher.
The Parsons’ Son: Ben Branchflower/Matty Kennedy/Matthew Tomlinson.
Director: Matthew Dunster.
Designer: Paul Wills.
Lighting: Philip Gladwell.
Sound: Ian Dickinson.
Choreographer: Aline David.
Fight director: Kate Waters.
Assistant director: Sam Pritchard.