Image: 1984 / ATC / Andi Crown
Do you ever feel like you’re being watched? Or that we’re all being brain-washed into dumbing down our thoughts, the way we speak, what we consume in the headlines, or being told a false view of how we view the world?
If so, Auckland Arts Festival's production of George Orwell’s 1984, probably isn’t for you. Like the saying, ‘just because you’re not paranoid, doesn’t mean everyone’s not out to get you’, this daring stage adaption is going to make the more paranoid among us very … well … a whole lot more paranoid.
Which is absolutely why you should see it.
The most terrifying thing when watching this performance was not that the gruesome torture scene which caused several audience members to flee the theatre. No. It was the realisation that this was written in 1949. Almost seventy years ago. Did George Orwell possess a time machine or a crystal ball that saw the future influence of government and mainstream media - ‘reality’ TV, fake news, attempts at citizen control, spying, and loss of privacy?
The performances are sensational. A South-Australian cast is very ably led by Tom Conroy, who personifies the wretched turmoil of the story’s main character, Winston. Winston is determined to ignore the directions of Oceania’s ruling ‘Party’ to ban individualism and non-conformist thoughts. Big Brother is watching all Oceania’s citizens as their brains are slowly manipulated into thinking and believing what the Party wants them to believe, even if that means rewriting history and ensuring that the individual is dead.
As Winston battles to understand if his world is real or not, some of the play’s most striking themes made me look closely at how we exist in today’s world, being fed fear-mongering headlines and political rhetoric on a daily basis. I couldn’t help but think that we are living in our own version of Oceania, and that, in itself, is a little terrifying. Between Trump’s ‘fake news’, on-going global terrorism attacks, and the idea that it’s ‘wrong’ to be anything other than conforming based on what social and mainstream media tells us to be, perhaps we need to take a leaf out of Winston’s book and challenge the establishment a little more.
Some of the lines that resonated with me included gems such as, ‘the people will not look up from their screens long enough to notice’, or ‘it’s a very valuable thing, privacy.’ It made me really conscious of how easily we give up control of our own critical thinking when it comes to challenging the status quo. Mindless consumption of whatever is being fed to us by our political leaders and media brainwashing us in ways that Orwell had the foresight to warn us about.
Between jumping back and forth in Winston’s ‘reality’, his increasing paranoia, and the outstanding production and sound design (note that this show should come with a very strong warning if you’re have epilepsy, or can’t handle loud noises and sudden changes in lighting), this adaption is a fabulous reminder of Winston’s belief that ‘words matter. Facts matter. Truth matters’ as something we should religiously uphold as thinking individuals.
Is Big Brother watching us? 1984 is guaranteed to make you leave the theatre with just enough paranoia to think that he is.
1984 is playing at the ASB Waterfront Theatre from March 9th - 25th as part of the Auckland Arts Festival. For more information, click here.Support Villainesse