Monday, April 4, 2016

Play Review: 1984

Image found here.
Last week I saw the Shakespeare Theatre Company perform a play version of the famous George Orwell novel, 1984. I read the book in high school (or maybe even middle school?), so it had been a long time. I really didn't remember much about the book, except that it predicts a dystopian future when "Big Brother" is always watching you.

I am not sure this play version did justice to the book, only because the stage can be so limiting compared to what your imagination can do with words on a page. The majority of the play takes place in what looks like an office, with a group of people whom we assume are rebels of sorts against the government. The program for the play included little bios about each of the characters, none of whom I remember from the story (except perhaps Julia, though I had forgotten her name).

From the play's program.
They are all talking about the government, the different "ministries," and so on, but the scene happens over and over again. It's repeated several times, and it seems that the main character, Winston Smith, is the only one aware of this. This sense of déjà vu leads the audience to wonder what is real, what's not, and how much of an impact the government has on what's going on in reality. I was also annoyed and bored with the repetition, quite honestly.

The main part I did remember from the book is that the main character and some girl do take a train out into the wilderness (a meadow? forest?) and have sex. That did happen in the play, except you have to imagine the characters out in nature (since the set didn't really change). These two people also find a little room where they think they can be safe without being seen, but we learn that there are even cameras in that storage room. In this story, sex is meant only for procreation, not pleasure, so both of them are arrested for "sexcrime."

Then comes the most memorable yet terrifying part of the play. The set changes to be a completely white, sterile room, which is Room 101 (the place where criminals are taken). There Winston is tortured for having independent thoughts. The example they give is this: when the man in charge of his torture asks him what 2+2 equals, Winston says 4; even when the man says that the answer should be 5 if the government chose it to be so, Winston denies that, saying it must be 4. Because Winston is disobeying the brainwashing that the government is trying to accomplish, he is tortured. First his fingertips are burnt off, then his teeth are pulled out, there was fake blood everywhere...It was very difficult to watch, even though we knew it wasn't real. The last straw was when they attempted to have rats eat off Winston's face. This is when he shouts, "Do it to Julia!" This pretty much means that he is willing to sacrifice the woman he loves to save himself. The torture ends, and we learn that Julia turned on him as well.

Although this one part was not even half of the play, it's what stuck with me the most. It was so gory and horrible. I can't even remember the actual ending of the play. I just have this image of this man on the ground, covered in blood and spitting fake teeth out. I'm not sure this is what Orwell would have wanted to be the main message for his story, but then again, perhaps he would appreciate the warning about a government that controls EVERYTHING, even one's thoughts.

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