Performance 1: 1984

“We are the dead.”

Finally in London! Fortunately, because I am a theatre major they have already bought some tickets for us throughout the semester. Very lucky, I know. Tonight we saw a production of 1984 by George Orwell at The Playhouse Theatre. I have neither read the play or seen it performed before, so tonight was my very first experience with the show. However, I knew the plot loosely because of reading about the book on Spark Notes several years ago. A very professional history with the play, isn’t it?

     I left feeling shocked and dazed, partly because of the epileptic “light show” and the haunting performances. Not having seats in the lower circle definitely handicapped the performance, but it was still  a very good production overall. Our tickets put us in the 45 degree angle seats, which always poses the danger of falling forward several feet! I cannot complain, because once again I am seeing theatre (kinda) for free.  There was no intermission- it definitely wasn’t needed. The actors made very good use of some handheld cameras (similar to cameras for your desktop computer) for the scenes in the antique shop. For those unfamiliar with the play, the two lovers (Winston and Julia) rent a room in an antique shop claiming “it’s the only place where the past lives.” (Or something of that nature.) These videos were projected on a screen above the set, as if the audience were Big Brother watching these rebels living (and loving) in their “secrecy.” As I look back on the performance, I think about the questions and discussions we had in professor Anderson’s Analysis of Dramatic Literature class my Freshman year. I guess I did learn something! I didn’t force myself to write an initial reaction to the show, so here I am several hours later already forgetting some details. I walked out speechless and my eyes hurt from the lights.That was my initial reaction.

Speaking of, surrounding the frame of the stage were extremely bright strobe lights that lit in fast spurts accompanied with blaring noises invading your ear drums. These usually happened during  scenes between “reality” and “reality.” The sounds reminded me of the canons signalling a death from the Hunger Games movies. It was a combination of the deep echoes from the canon and a high pitched static sound that made me feel like I was a fly hearing a violin-extremely tense and uncomfortable. These sounds combined with the extremely quick transitions from complete darkness to blinding light made me feel like I was being arrested or “unpersoned.” It felt extremely invasive, and that felt perfect for the production. The costumes stuck to the original period, however Room 101 and it’s workers all wore stark white uniforms with storm trooper-esque masks. The blood in the torture scenes  was very striking, and included a Titus Andronicus-style blood waterfall. (They pull teeth out and a waterfall of blood falls from the mouth onto the stark white floor.)

I do not know if any of you are familiar with Trevor Nunn’s production of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickelby, but I highly suggest you go and change your life by watching this production. There is a character named Smike: a mentally and physically disabled boy who Nicholas saves from a horrible boy’s school in Yorkshire. If Smike is anything, he is loving. Although because he is so naive and gullible he becomes used and hurt, which begins to guard his enormous heart. Smike carries himself with a shielded innocence, a constant paranoia hovers above his fragile body. Winston Smith, our main character, reminded me of Smike.

One: because of his breathy and higher-pitched Yorkshire accent.

Two, his weak  and spineless physicality demonstrated the same fearful naivety of Smike.

Both Smike and Winston are the hopeful heroes, our underdogs. Although both are taken down in very different ways. Smike is taken down by years of poor health eventually leading to death by illness, whereas Winston is killed (transformed? unpersoned?) by his attempt at fighting for “the truth.” If you watch any of my performances you will see at least one subconscious reference to Nicholas Nickelby. I would apologize but this play is truly a huge inspiration for me as an actor, so I cannot feel THAT bad about being subliminally inspired by it. However this is something that I know I must leave behind and develop each character on my own (or with my director) throughout the rehearsal process. There, you happy?

I do not know if this is in the  original script or the novel, but they had several scenes that started over like a broken record. These had moments of synchronicity within the cast that defined the feeling of solipsism for Winston, the main character. The synchronicity was usually shown in the cafeteria scenes with the whipping of a tea towel or napkin. This felt like I was seeing rust on a well-oiled machine. Very well timed rust…To explain, we were seeing the obvious cracks in the mighty structure of The Party that go unseen by the banal citizens of day to day life. By seeing these movements it was proving that there was in fact weaknesses in which to bring down The Party. I felt like the audience kept changing roles throughout the play. Watching the cracks in scenes put me right behind the eyes of Winston Smith, wondering if we were the only ones noticing these replicated scenes. I now realize that this made me have the same solipsistic view as Winston. Crazy, theatre, crazy! During the scenes with the handheld camera I felt like a parent watching their teen over the baby cam, incredibly intrusive and distasteful.

The last line of the play was “Thank you.” This was said by Winston to the audience, the very first instance of breaking the fourth wall, and it was the last line of the show. The audience held the same surprised gasp as the audiences at the end of Inception. We were left flabbergasted and extremely giddy at the tease we were given. Once again, because I’m not familiar with the script I do not know if it was original or added (please comment if you know!).

It perfectly ended the play with a finally questioning of accepted reality versus truth.

 

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