Winston Smith (Jack Cosgrove) receives the attentions of The Thought Police. Picture: Sell A Door
This ambitious if rather over-long production is a brave attempt to transfer the very essence and atmosphere of Orwell’s dystopian literary masterpiece to the stage. Sticking so closely to the original 1948 novel may be both laudable and interesting but in the process Matthew Dunster’s adaptation sacrifices some of the pace and fluidity of the narrative.
It is nonetheless a gripping piece of drama and a timely reminder that many of the evils that Orwell warned of more than 60 years ago are very much present in the our surveillance-obsessed, internet-monitored society today.
Sell a Door Theatre Company’s production joins a long list of stage adaptations of this remarkable cautionary horror story. Written soon after the end of World War II, it focuses on a Britain in which not just freedom but free-will has been destroyed by a brutal totalitarian regime.
We are confronted with a world in which the population is crushed by fear and sedated with cheap entertainment and slugs of Victory Gin. A world where history is distorted and, if inconvenient, completely erased. A world where minds are realigned to believe that war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength. But, above all, a world where everyone is required to worship Big Brother, the unseen dictator who watches their every move.
One of the many victims of this sick and damaged society is Winston Smith who rewrites the past for the Ministry of Truth but hates his job and harbours revolutionary thoughts. When he meets and falls in love with Julia, a kindred spirit, they decide to risk everything in a bid to smash the regime and rediscover reality.
Jack Cosgrove and Lily Knight are superb as the couple battling dark forces in a world where you can trust no-one, not even yourself. Owen Lindsay is O’Brien, a man who initially seems to offer them hope but turns out to be head of The Thought Police and equipped with highly developed skills in torture and brainwashing.
At times Sell A Door’s production is tough to watch as Winston is mentally and physically broken in unrelenting torture scenes played out against a stark and beautifully lit set. I can’t imagine how wiped-out Jack Cosgrove must feel at the end of the performance.
This story is exhausting in its sheer continued resonance. It may appear that dictatorships are only endured by foreigners but we live in a shrinking world where freedoms are eroded daily and nothing happens without being transmitted instantly by Twitter. We somehow know that Big Brother is indeed watching us.
*George Orwell’s 1984 continues at Lighthouse in Poole today (Thursday 5th June) with a 2.00pm matinee and a 7.45pm performance