Tag: George Orwell

REVIEW: Stunning performances in 1984 at Nottingham Playhouse

1984The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites – George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

The moment when Winston Smith and his lover Julia realise they have been caught in this stage adaptation of George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four is one of the most dramatic I have ever seen on the stage. Away from the omnipresent telescreens, they have created a sanctuary where they conduct their illicit love affair and plot to bring down Big Brother and the Party. But in this terrifying scene lights flash, scenery is pulled down and the couple are taken away to face their inevitable fate: torture, indoctrination and the notorious Room 101.

The play, which opened at Nottingham Playhouse on Friday, is framed by two scenes set in modern times. The characters, who only really exist in Winston’s mind as the ‘unborn’ people of the future, study the forbidden diary he began to keep in order to confirm that his thoughts were still free and that two plus two really did equal four. This part takes us into Winston’s troubled mind and there were some great dramatic flourishes such as the fact that the mobile phone ring tone of one of the characters is Oranges and Lemons, the nursery rhyme which those in Winston’s world vaguely remember from the time before the Party took control.

But the modern era soon gives way to the paranoid world of Big Brother in which people view each other with suspicious eyes. At the Ministry of Truth, where Winston is responsible for falsifying documents from history, a dark routine is played out in the canteen. The same people have the same conversations every day – until one of them inexplicably disappears one lunchtime. This paranoia is heightened by a tray being dropped just as Parsons describes the execution of an enemy of the state and it reaches a dramatic climax during the absurd Two Minutes of Hate. In a scene which was perhaps even more gripping than the novel depicted, the characters shout words of hatred at a telescreen which shows someone being hounded by men in boiler suits and gas masks, while pictures of the ultimate enemy, Emmanuel Goldstein, flash on the screen.

Overall, this was a superb production with stunning performances throughout, particularly from Mark Arends as the poor, ulcer-ridden Winston. I did think that the relationship between O’Brien and Winston could have been drawn out a little further; in the novel O’Brien wins Winston’s trust over time so the moment when he betrays him is more dramatic however this is a minor qualm.The real power of this production, aside from the dramatic effects, lies in the fact that the director does not need to hammer home the idea that our world resembles Orwell’s vision in more ways than he could have imagined, for instance, the chilling moment when Winston ‘unpersons’ a man by deleting him from history, reminded me of how easy it is to remove people from social networking sites with the click of a button.

1984, which is a collaboration between Nottingham Playhouse and Headlong, is on until 28th September. For details and tickets visit the Playhouse website. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #1984Play.

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Evening of entertainment by students from Nottingham University

Students from Nottingham University’s many arts societies gathered on Friday evening for a one-off event of dance, art, music, comedy and entertainment.

Along with an exhibition featuring arts and crafts by student artists and members of the community, there were performances from a diverse cross-section of the university’s arts community. Some of the highlights for me was a glorious introduction to improvisational comedy from members of Improv (these guys could give some of the comedians on Radio 4 a run for their money), along with the live music from the very charismatic Cheshire Cat.

The idea behind the event was to link up members of different arts organisations so that they could pool their skills on future productions. It also aimed to raise the profile of the university’s theatre company New Theatre as well as being a fundraiser for its upcoming production of George Orwell’s 1984, which opens on Wednesday.

Organiser and third year student Martha Wilson, from New Theatre, said: “We felt that the theatre can be a bit exclusive so we wanted to introduce people from different arts societies and get them talking to each other. It’s a good meeting point and I’m happy that we have so many people here tonight.”

1984 is directed by Bridie Rollins and it is produced by Martha Wilson. For tickets see the website.

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Desolation Row: Lowry’s exploration of modern anxiety at Djanogly Art Gallery

L. S. Lowry said that the Great Depression passed him by. It might seem like an unusual statement given that, like George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier, he depicted the unemployed and the over-worked in the north of England. But unlike Orwell, he was not politically or ideologically motivated. Instead, his figures become part of the industrial wastelands alongside the derelict buildings, abandoned boats and thick, black smog.

Earlier this month, a wonderfully curated exhibition of Lowry’s work opened at Nottingham’s Djanogly Art Gallery. Here his Lancashire mill scenes sit alongside some of his lesser known rural landscapes which became increasingly stark and devoid of detail.

Although his images are steeped in the everyday there is also something unsettling about them. Like T. S. Eliot in The Wasteland and James Joyce in Ulysses, Lowry does not subscribe to a straightforward social realism but instead explores the existential anxiety of modern life. Personal identity is lost in the crushing machine of industrialisation; people are forced to work long hours and they become disconnected from their families and themselves, as shown in the family scene of Discord (1943).

Lowry painted a number of startling portraits, including Head of a Man (1938), Boy in a Yellow Jacket (1935) and The Manchester Man (1935-6). The red, staring eyes, hollow expressions and skin ravaged by harsh weather, factory chemicals and poor diet reveal the soul-sapping nature of the industrial age and force us to confront the human cost of modernity head on. Contrast these pictures with the pencil sketches A Meeting (1923) and Speculators (1924) which depict middle class professionals sitting in their comfortable offices smoking, drinking coffee and using their minds rather than being physically exhausted by the drudgery of hard labour.

He also produced a number of desolate landscapes, both urban and rural. Some, such as Wasteland (1935), show the spoils of industrialisation at a time when Lancashire’s cotton industry was in decline and these too echo Eliot’s poem. Many resemble a battlefield from the First World War, perhaps anticipating that another war was not far off. The figures of his earlier paintings are notably absent and the once-thriving mills are abandoned although thick, putrid smoke continues to belch out of the chimneys in the distance indicating a legacy of destruction.

Even more stark are Lowry’s paintings of the lakes, seashores and rural landscapes of Derbyshire, the Yorkshire Moors and the Lake District which are largely free of human activity and the antithesis of the pastoral idyll. As in the city, there is nothing comforting here; the land is oddly life-less, almost lunar and detached from any real sense of location, hinting at perplexing metaphysical questions about time.

The exhibition continues at Djanogly Art Gallery, Lakeside Arts Centre (University of Nottingham campus) until 5th February. Entry is free.


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