C, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

This stark production of 1984, by Debut Theatre Company, begins and ends with an impassioned ‘I love you Big Brother’ followed by a haunting expression – part ingratiating plea, part maniacal grimace.

Tim Hyams is superb as the tortured, defiant Winston Smith, determined to hold onto his humanity in the face of the eternal boot of the all-seeing state. The decision to portray Orwell’s totalitarian nightmare as a period piece is intriguing. The cast kitted out in prisoner of war garb and the old time favourites on the crackly wireless, contribute to its archaic feel. But this is more than Stalinist satire, managing to transcend its historical placing.

The use of nudity is – perhaps appropriately – revealing. Winston and Julia (Elizabeth Park) get naked, as if to portray what it means to be spontaneous and joyous. After enduring the hellish torments of Room 101, Winston’s slightly draped, broken and gaunt figure can resist the authority of Big Brother no more. We are witness to liberty and the taking away of liberty.

But how do we make sense of 1984 in an age when we invite Big Brother not just into our living rooms, but also into every nook and cranny of our lives to protect us from disparate enemies within. Not even the proles, especially not the proles, are free to roam beyond the gaze of today’s telescreens.

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