Blind Summit, based on the novel by George Orwell
1984 is quite a mammoth project to undertake. Celebrated puppetry company Blind Summit have been developing their adaptation of George Orwell's classic text for two years, and the resulting production is rich in theatrical language and packs a powerful, if slight, punch.
A chorus of seven, clad in dull-coloured workers overalls, narrate the terrifying tale of Winston and Julia who dare to fall in love in the nanny state of Oceanica. Big Brother is always watching, illustrated by the beady eyes of the chorus constantly following the slightest moves our heroes make. The Ministry of Truth work tirelessly to change the past so that it falls in line with what the governing party want everyone to believe; and in turn, the community forget their own past.
The depressing world in which they live is humourously created using cardboard props, a few chairs and self-made sound effects. It's all very Brechtian,with our narrators declaring they have no need for 'posh' sound equipment (which is in fact used for Chris Branch's charming score) and introducing each scene.
Simon Scardfield's determined Winston begins a revolt against the party, inspired by the rebellious Julia (infectiously portrayed by the always excellent Julia Innocenti) who daringly passes him a note declaring she loves him. In a hilarious scene, this leads to them meeting in a poppy field and getting intimate before setting up a secret life together in a room above a Junk Shop owned by puppet Charrington.
Elsewhere however; puppetry is scarce, which is a real shame. The character of Charrington is the most interesting of the lot: creepy, odd and enigmatic. In a fantastic coup de theatre he is revealed as an actual puppet when the lovers are discovered and captured. It is moments like this which illuminate. Despite a powerful script and bold performances, the production is in danger of becoming as two-dimensional as their cardboard props. At two and a half hours long, there is no let up and it is difficult for the cast to add colour to the text-heavy grey and didactic world expertly created
When Winston finally betrays his lover in Room 101, the lights flash to Julia and a fagile puppet gently touches her. An overwhelming sound of white noise and electircity blasts from the stage, as Julia stares, lost. It is a haunting and poetic image which portrays so much more than a tirade of words could ever do. It's a pity there aren't more of these moments throughout this strong but cold production.
Runs until 2 January 2010
Reviewer: Terry O'Donovan