Kept in place by a watchful eye
Seeing Orwell's classic on stage might clarify the origins of Big Brother for today's students, says Aleks Sierz
Today, everyone's watching Big Brother, but once it was Big Brother who was watching everyone else.
Written in 1948, George Orwell's 1984 is set in a nightmare totalitarian state, in which Winston Smith, who longs for truth and decency, finds himself arrested after a brief love affair with Julia. After torture and brainwashing, he finally accepts the system.
Adapted by Nick Lane and directed by Gareth Tudor Price, this version follows the original closely. "It's very faithful to the novel's structure and to Orwell's intentions," says Tudor Price. "We use the same haunting flashbacks as in the novel, for example when Winston remembers his mother and his wife.
"I think that the situations that are explored in the novel are as relevant now as they ever were: that overwhelming atmosphere of fear, paranoia, surveillance, misinformation and political spin describes the world we live in. Orwell also makes references to the Lottery, which keeps people in their place by allowing them to dream of winning the jackpot."
The geo-politics of the novel, where the alliances between Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia are constantly shifting "is reminiscent of how we provided Iraq with weapons so they could fight Iran, and then Iran was on our side, and now they are the enemy again, accused of arming the Iraqi insurgents".
The main theme of 1984, says Tudor Price, is that of "indoctrination, with the consequent removal of liberties, and of individual thought and identity. Also central is the notion of being totally subsumed by and working for one party."
The key to Winston Smith's character is "his sense of constant doubt. With all his insecurities and fears, we see him as an emotional as well as a political human being. He's the kind of person we can all relate to - and we hope that there are others who think like him. By the end, he's an example of how an individual soul is crushed."
By contrast, says Tudor Price, "Julia is a free spirit who releases something within Winston as well. She's both an ally and a sexual and emotional companion. The closeness between them seems very natural in a world which is stark and institutional. "