Alra’s 1984 – plusgood with some ungood

The voice announces not only that the theatre is open, but also that this is the first performance since a recent refurbishment.  The theatre space at Oldham Library can truly be described as a hidden gem; seating around 80 in comfortable benches, and with a decent sized acting space with good if basic lighting, this is the perfect place for uncomplicated performances.

ALRA North present a shortened version of the 1984 that was performed at the Royal Exchange in 2010, adapted by Oldham born Matthew Dunster.  The further we get from the year 1984, the closer to home the themes of this play seem to become; 1984 is very much a story about the threats we face today.  It is therefore a tricky business to edit the play and perhaps this time it missed opportunities to question how close we are getting to the world within 1984; retaining some extracts from Goldstein’s book would add to the political relevance of this play.

But it’s a well directed and performed play with clever ideas.  The production itself is visually very sparse and sonically rich, with excellent music choices.  Actors have to work hard to create the world Winston inhabits; the stage consists of just a bed and four chairs, played out in front of a huge red curtain.  Given the tight acting area, the world of Oceania was well developed through movements, such as the robotic chair positioning and frequent 90 degree turns.  Props were used very effectively; mainly mimed, key items including wine glasses and bread were real, reinforcing their importance.  The latter scenes in the cell and in Room 101 were particularly effective.

The Postgraduate actors from ALRA create some excellent performances.  The decision to switch the actor playing Winston half way through is surprising, but works well; the two characters are very different, and this becomes a play about any man in this world, rather than just Winston.  Julia exudes confidence in the face of Winston’s uncertainty and is critical to driving the story forward.

But the greatest weakness of this play is the lack of fear.  In the book Winston ‘sat back [with] a sense of complete helplessness’.  This confusion and helplessness just doesn’t come out enough in the early parts, and this is mostly down to the recorded voice sections.  There is not enough authoritarianism in the announcements and telescreens, so that the actors have too little to fight against.  Winston’s internal thoughts are flat and inconsistent, and do not convey the right emotion.  There is too little contrast between what the actors present and what is shown inside their heads and in the outside world.  It is only when the action creates this environment that we see real fear.

Plusgood with some ungood.


Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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