It’s clear that the dystopian sci-fi classics of the past are fast becoming fact rather than fiction. In Aldous Huxley’s classic Brave New World, his characters digested the drug ‘Soma’, a fictional form of anti-depressant that kept everyone within the borderlines of society (enter Citalopram), whilst in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, he wrote about personal headsets which were used to distract a person’s mind (hello Bluetooth headsets). None of these predictions come truths have been as terrifying as the forecasts made in George Orwell’s 1984 – suppression of the media, obliteration of historical events and artefacts, thought control and the ever-watching Big Brother. So when Cheltenham’s own Close Up Theatre brought their rendition of Orwell’s dystopian world to the 2018 Fringe for the 14th year running, they must have by now realised their annual exhibition has become more and more realistic by the year.
As Winston Smith (played by the youthfully energetic Orlando Giannini) slowly loses his marbles to the oppressive world around him, Director Rebecca Vines flings us deep into the nothingness of his surroundings via a lack of props (save a few chairs) and the back theatre curtain holding the Telescreen – used to broadcast the unflinching propaganda of Big Brother. Vines’ coupling of this dark sparseness of objects on display, alongside the class of acting by Giannini, lifts the overcast gloom that was rife in Orwell’s magnum opus from the page and nicely onto the stage. As the production matures and delves further into Winston’s dealings with the mysterious O’Brien (sinisterly played by Max Thomas), the strength and exuberance of the pair’s acting outweighs the direr and prolonged monologues found in the latter parts of the book.
The most enthusiastic of director’s must go through all sorts of sleepless nights wondering which parts of Orwell’s masterpiece would be best utilised to bring his story to life on stage, and director Rebecca Vines use of a scarce stage platform alongside penetrative audio-visual techniques is certainly one way to go about it. In the end though, the unison and excitement of the cast is what really brings this adaptation to life. If like I you feel that the world around us is beginning to feel a lot like a setting thought up by the mind of Orwell or Huxley, then this is the Fringe show for you.
1984, Greenside @ Nicolson Square – Emerald Theatre, Until 25th August, 11:45