1984: Dystopian Warning or Guidebook?

By Dustin Jussila

Fresh into a new decade, our society mirrors in many whats George Orwell would have described as “fragrantly artificial.” Our ruling class and influencers have succeeded by defrauding the skeptical and the swaying the non-discerning. Our 21st century digital paradise has gifted us with fake-news, eavesdropping thermostats, and social media echo-chambers. 1984 is here, and we seem to be okay with it.

The Walterdale Theatre’s production of George Orwell’s novel 1984 is a timely reminder that freedom
and individuality is a privilege, and the absence of it is mutilating. Like the novel, this play takes terrific efforts to emphasize this premise and introduces a choking environment that should make audiences feel claustrophobic, with three large TV monitors covering the stage to distribute propaganda via a loudspeaker. And although we never meet him in person, Big Brother is present in every scene. He is intimidating enough that spectators might be encouraged to join the rest of the actors in the frightening “two-minute hate,” lest they be dragged away by Party guards.
Audiences are shepherded by protagonist Winston; whose expositions flesh out the bleak universe he
inhabits as an employee of the “Ministry of Truth.” Winston participates in the 1984 version of
“alternative facts” – rewriting historical documents to reflect Party ideology. Played by Edmonton based actor Michael Anderson, Winston is the every-man who carries out his duties sufficiently, but craves for something greater – genuine, unfiltered, truth. When his reality is challenged by a Party official, commanding him to admit that 2+2=5 in the play’s pivotal scene, Anderson is great in showing every element of Winston’s emotional and physical opposition. The acting in this play is incredibly visceral, with several aggressive scenes that, in the intimate Walterdale Theatre, might even unsettle some audiences.

 

Much praise needs to be given to the sound, video, and lighting designers who expertly crafted an
immersive universe that was charming at times, but also frightening. This high-quality stage-production managed to add noises that will startle, lighting that can disorient, and unnerving propaganda videos to create a terrifying but rich environment that will engage all.

The Walterdale Theatre’s production of 1984 is a chilling reflection of what our society could be, with
very little effort, if we aren’t careful. This theater adaptation of the famous dystopian novel
demonstrates what may perhaps happen when don’t reject radicalism, like in Big Brother’s party. If
we surrender our sovereignty over our own privacy, or waive our critical thought, we could be a human face being “stamped by a boot forever.”

 

Banner & text images courtesy of Scott Henderson & Henderson Images.