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Something bigger than us all

1984 By George Orwell Adapted by Alan Lyddiard Directed by Alan Lyddiard and Mark Murphy Northern Stage Ensemble

Alan Lyddiard believes now's the time to show a new generation the origin of programmes such as Big Brother and Room 101. His version of 1984, Orwell's futuristic satire on a totalitarian state, in which Winston Smith is arrested, tortured and brainwashed after a brief affair with Julia, has already been on tour, but Lyddiard has reworked it. It is now tighter - 90 minutes without interval - and includes an intimate dialogue between dissident Winston and the interrogator O'Brien. There's still the on-screen bloodbath, but between torture sessions screens swing inwards, creating a small space for the antagonists.

It's vital that Winston believes in political supremo Big Brother before he's shot; if he dies a dissident he'd be a potential martyr. The production goes for the psychology: "O'Brien has to explain to Winston what the world is like and his (Winston's) place in it." This is a three-stage process: learning, understanding, acceptance.

Lyddiard likens O'Brien to Tom Courtenay's Communist official in David Lean's Dr Zhivago, "believing absolutely in power: we want power for power's sake - to give us our place in society."

Most surprising is the element of religious ritual in the production. Winston undergoes a religious experience. Like God, the Party represents, says Lyddiard, "something bigger than us all, a purpose beyond us."

His other parallel is Slobodan Milosevic, representing strong, corrupt leadership - popular too. The Proles are happy and comfortable, with increased chocolate rations: submissive, but content. The Bosnian parallel is important; Lyddiard believes Orwell was exaggerating the dangers but warning that his exaggerations could become reality.

Rehearsals included playing Julia as being in on the conspiracy against Winston. Though the idea has not made it to performance, it "gave an incredible paranoia to the piece". Lyddiard believes it's a possible interpretation. Still, "she's a spunky woman. She's full of life" - and younger than Winston, 23 to his 40.

In the new tour, Winston is played by a 28-year-old actor, Julia by a 22-year-old, making the character "very naive, very, very beautiful, an innocent girl; he can't believe his luck."

Sheffield Lyceum, January 21 to 25 Tel: 0114 249 6000 The Lowry, Salford Quays, January 28 to February 1 Tel: 0161 876 2000Lyric Hammersmith, February 4 to 22 Tel: 020 8741 2311The Hexagon, Reading, March 25 to 29 Tel: 0118 960 6060

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