Tuesday, 18 August 2015

1984 in 2015

Back in the early 1980s, my Latin teacher urged our class to hurry up and read George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Half jesting, half warning. Orwell's nightmare was a matter of years away. I got on and read the book pdq*.

Fast forward 30+ years: my reading of 1984 is a dim memory. A Time Out Magazine promotion brought me to the Playhouse Theatre for the new adaptation by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan. The ticket price was an appropriate £19.84. 

Pic of the front of the Playhouse Theatre, displaying 1984 sign and ticket price £19.84

In retrospect, I wish I hadn't gone. This was a bewildering, unnerving and harrowing production. And yet, as Dr Paolo Gerbaudo of King's College London wrote in the play's programme:

"We have become the consenting surveilled, people who by accepting the system of Internet communication and its "free" economy have ended up unwittingly accepting the surveillance of state security agencies."

The time sequence becomes increasingly confusing. What is a real time event? What is a portrayal of Winston's memory or madness? 

The events are more unsettling than my teenage memories of the novel. Was that due to the adaptation? My youthful understanding? Or simply that drama is more vivid than my own imagined world in reading? Could it be because 2015 more closely resembles Orwell's 1984 than my memory of that time?

1984 turned out to be one of the best years of my life. It included the second half of my year abroad - a year at Nancy University in the East of France. A year that informed and shaped my thinking far more than I realised at the time. It intrigued me to contrast news reports from both sides of the Channel.

In 1984, Winston rewrites history according to the state's current allies. People become "unpersons" under his direction - as later happens to him. It turns out that he and Julia are under surveillance even in bed. No privacy at all.

During the torture scene, I was glad that I was perched high up in the gods**, unable to see the full stage. I couldn't bear to look. And yet, I remember how just before Christmas 2014, the US Senate report confirmed torture.

And I remember my old Latin teacher's warning about the need to be aware before the unthinkable happens...

*pdq = pretty dammed quick
** the gods

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