George Orwell’s dystopian novel, originally published in 1949, is a cautionary tale, drawing on the then recent insights into Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany, examining the role of truth and facts within politics and the way in which they are manipulated. This dramatisation is constructed almost entirely from dialogue taken from the original novel.
Winston Smith (Zoran Blackie) is in prison, found guilty of Thoughtcrimes against Big Brother. As part of his reconstruction, led by O’Brien (John Maguire), he must re-enact key moments from his past life, with the help of other thought criminals playing key characters including re-enacted versions of himself (John Reynolds) and O’Brien (Kate Mulvihill) as well as Parsons (Michael Silverman) and Charrington (Vicki Griffiths), so that everyone can learn from his mistakes. But can they learn from his biggest mistake of all: falling in love with Julia (Charlotte Holguin)?
There is a temptation with anything futuristic for productions to go overboard with set, costume, and prop, but director David Griffiths avoids that trap and in keeping the staging simple, takes advantage of the natural intimacy of the venue, allowing a more powerful production to evolve as well as giving the cast the time and space in which to perform, with the balanced use of AV drawing us, the audience, further into the hype of the original Big Brother that begins from the start with its rousing ensemble opening. In achieving this he is ably supported by Hayley Jeffrey and Tim Saint overseeing the sound and lighting of a stage designed by Saint and Duncan Young and managed well on the evening by Catherine Flower’s efficient scene changes.
Clever costume design from Carol Golightly impresses beige and bland upon the cast, robbing them of any humanity, from which one can appreciate how a little lipstick and a touch of rouge can really bring someone to life as it did with Holguin’s masterly performance as the youthfully impetuous Julia, a rebel from the waist down, who is swept along by her little acts of rebellion but doesn’t really want to give up her lifestyle.
Blackie rose to the demands of his role, where for much of the opening half he is observing himself and thereafter, more than often, has to respond to the surrounding space and silence, in a sympathetic portrayal the audience could relate to; I could understand his physical exhaustion at the end.
Reynolds’ re-enactment of Winston was cleverly done with his more obvious youth and performance inviting us to hope for a much different conclusion to the inevitable one that took us into the interval. Silverman, Griffiths, and Mulvihill all injected life into their supporting characters delivering believable performances that reinforced the authenticity of what was unfolding on stage.
Maguire is a close friend but with little more than an adjustment of his hair styling, he was unrecognisable when he purposefully strode onto the stage and if I’m honest, scared the life out of me, in a powerful performance that highlighted far too well the perils of ‘charismatic’ leaders who tell us just how it is. When not directly involved in the action, his stares were chilling.
Take your pick of recent current affairs and this play remains a damning indictment of how little society – people and government – has moved on, and in this production that message came across loud and clear.
Thingwall Players is a community theatre based in the Wavertree Garden Suburb in South Liverpool with a history stretching back over seventy years. Further details https://www.facebook.com/ThingwallPlayers/
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 25th June 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★