The performance of George Orwell’s 1984 by the Northern Stage Ensemble, at The Lowry in Salford, was dark, stark and brutal.
Directed by Alan Lyddiard and Mark Murphy, using large-scale visual footage filmed on location in Moscow and Newcastle, the adaptation attempted to recreate Orwell’s cold, oppressive, inhuman world. The staging was original, but from the first scenes of torture, beatings and blood-curdling screams, the noise level increased. Subtle, this play is not. It is violence, layered upon violence, which fails to convey the true terror of living in Big Brother’s totalitarian regime.
Craig Conway, as Winston Smith, is believable, putting in an excellent performance, but Samantha Cooper’s Julia (Winston’s lover) was much too lightweight, lacking any sense of passion. Mark Calvert as O’Brien, Winston’s confidant, friend and, ultimately, his torturer, also failed to convey menace, being rather wooden at times.
This version is concentrated mainly on the latter half of the book, skimming swiftly over Winston and Julia’s doomed relationship, turning it almost into a one-night stand. And owing to the loud video background, Winston’s final betrayal of Julia is lost; I had to strain to hear him over the noise say `Do it to Julia!’ – at least, I think that’s what he said.
The play lasts for one and a half hours, and overall is very well done and worth seeing. After two curtain calls, the audience exited to the Salford night in a state of shock. A brave performance all round.