George Orwell, adapted by Matthew Dunster
Sell A Door
Grand Theatre, Blackpool

1984, from Sell A Door theatre company

Any worries that George Orwell’s grim political fiction is long past its own sell-by date are always offset by a daily reading of the news headlines.

Indeed Matthew Dunster’s adaptation of the novel—first seen at the Royal Exchange in Manchester three years ago—reminds us of some of the forensic details of the future that Orwell predicted in 1949, right down to weights, measures and currency.

Meanwhile so much else from the book has been requisitioned by popular culture that nowadays we know Big Brother actually has a Geordie accent, and Room 101 is where celebrities go to earn a half-hour appearance fee.

But then this production, from the youthful Sell A Door theatre company—their second performance here this year—does not exactly stint on any of the remaining detail.

At nearly three hours in length (and it seems like longer than that spent in the torture dungeon of the Ministry of Truth during the second act) it’s perhaps just too faithful to the original.

Dunster’s edition of the book hangs on to much of its visceral power, and creates several disturbing tableaux, but the company is not quite able to give it the physical energy necessary.

If you’re going to recite the whole of the counter-revolutionary Goldstein’s manifesto as a disembodied ‘voice off’ then it warrants some creative on-stage theatricality by way of compensation. For all their warnings about on-stage nudity and violence, you feel Sell A Door conceals its ability and pulls its dramatic punches.

Other theatre productions of the seminal dystopian novel have wisely edited down the internal monologues of its central character, Winston Smith, and substituted them with performances that still convey the horror of the totalitarian state. A Northern Stage Ensemble version, some years back, managed a masterful version in one act of around 90 minutes.

Proving that a year from fiction can, in fact, be recounted in much less time. Big Brother would have called that doubleplusgood.

Reviewer: David Upton

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