"Big Brother is Watching YOU!"
by Peter Tehuti for remotegoat on 10/03/18

Yes, he was, right from the beginning, or at least his fanatical Party Members were! When I arrived last night the usual open door to Theatro Technis was closed and a few folk were milling about outside. Oh, no, I thought, something has happened, a flood in the toilets, some other mini-disaster but, no, it was the registration to become a Party Member and like all red tape processes moved at a snail's pace. I passed my brief interrogation and was soon 'awarded' with my armband sternly reminded that it must be visibly worn at all times. Even so, hard faces looked on suspiciously while we waited to go in and when inside I removed it to take off my overcoat and place it on the inner coat I was a bit jittery that I would be spotted and 'arrested'! For a fully professional company, the attention to immersive detail would be mightily praised but this was a 'Tower Theatre' amateur production, albeit, along with Questors, one of the two leading London-based outfits. And on the immersive experience alone, I have to give this four stars. Not asked to enter the theatre but to go immediately to our 'work stations'. And I loved the brusque " Get Out" accompanied by a blaring siren to announce the interval.It reminded me of an early immersive show, in fact, before the word had been invented, about the English Civil War when we were told to leave by Cromwell's roundheads, poking us with pikes, as the theatres were now closed!
I had seen a professional fringe company put on this adapted novel two or three years ago and it was fine but if anything lends itself to the so-called immersive style, then it is "1984" and in this production they did themselves proud including projected scenes on a back screen in which the 'wallpaper' was the symbol of 'Ingsoc', a slightly stretched diamond encompassing a central circle in which was a black dot, the watchful eye of Big Brother. And this symbol and immersive conceit was cleverly and impressively repeated in the programme. Just looked at it again and found myself amused -in the best possible way- by the unsmiling mugshots of the cast.
What did I want from this production? Well, when I read the novel many years ago, I was literally chilled by the total destruction of Winston Smith's beliefs. It remains one of the finest examples of a fictional totalitarian state. But you're alone, in a kind of self-imposed solitary confinement when reading a novel so a theatre production, however immersive, has a much more difficult task being in a room of other people and with obvious distractions of the real world. But the choreographed marching across each other to an eerie rhythm, the screams of torture and the coldly calm ruthlessness of the chief emissary of the Party went a considerable way to achieving that 'chill'. Especially in Act 2, I often forgot for long moments that I was in a theatre being temporarily drawn in to the drama.
There is a romantic sub-plot in which Winston and Julia secretly defy the Party and carry out an affair. I seem to remember that, in the novel, it was a more romantic liaison whereas in this effort it seemed to be more based on lust as they both expected to have sex at the earliest opportunity which was a shame as I felt less sorry for them when they were parted. But Paul Graves as Winston and Chloe Ledger as Julia served the relationship well with playful enthusiasm. He was particularly convincing in the torture and Room 101 scenes. And that takes some doing to maintain that level of emotional energy. Ms Ledger, too, was quite believable as the defiant creature who longed for the prohibited human contact and embraced it and Winston with an urgent vigour. Not to give too much away, the actor playing that aforementioned chief emissary exuded considerable cold menace when intent on 'curing' the hapless Winston. As did the nurses sponging down Winston's bruised and dirty body to a soft, musical accompaniment of eerie calm, the 'lull before the storm'.
In conclusion, an impressive ensemble production, astounding attention to detail, from the continuous rolling digital display and announcements to the boiler-suited multitude and heavily uniformed and helmeted 'Thought Police' this was a very enjoyable-is that the right word?!-satisfying, then, production. Of course, I enjoyed the show but it almost trivialises the achieved sinister quality of this ambitious and largely successful attempt at bringing Orwell's masterpiece to theatrical life. Unlike what I would wish for the history-erasing,totally ruthless Party, it is a shame that this bold event has to end this week. Well worth bringing back again. And that is a genuine Truth!

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