We might be familiar with the term ‘Big Brother’ from the popular television series, but this term was coined a long time ago by George Orwell who wrote 1984 in 1949. The idea that we are being watched constantly by those in power runs through Orwell’s novel as does the idea of ‘Big Brother’ in the play. Director Jenni Bertels refers to the play “as a cautionary tale written in 1949 to warn readers about a real possibility for the near future: if totalitarianism were not opposed, some variation of the 1984 world could become reality”. Indeed, we might ask whether the increase of surveillance cameras in our own homes and towns and the development of drone technology has not already brought us there.

The story revolves around a love affair between Winston (Lance Nuttman) and Julia (Emily Loberg) who work in the Ministry of Truth to revise history to match the propaganda of Big Brother. The voice of Big Brother (played by Jeff Brownson) continually interrupts the daily life of the citizens with slogans such as ‘War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength and Freedom is Slavery’. Winston and Julia are determined to join a ‘resistance’ they’ve heard of but they are betrayed by a perceived friend, O’Brien (Steve Marik) and turned over to the thought police. Nuttman’s portrayal of Winston’s journey from innocence to brutal awakening to being brainwashed is an acting tour de force and the show should not be missed for this alone.

Bertels and set designer Chris Benham have staged this dystopian tale in a stark, industrial space lacking in comfort, consumer goods and warmth. Momentary relief from the totalitarian presence is the warmth of a room which becomes Winston and Julia’s hiding place they rent from British Landlady (Deborah Johansen), who in her fond memories of her husband Sam, represents the past. Johansen plays the Landlady with deep warmth and humor and provides a respite from the eyes of Big Brother.

The sound design by Galen Brownson is a cross between heavy metal and machine-like rhythmic pulsing, almost like the sound of a frantic heartbeat.

Watching the play, one is reminded of how much the phrases of Orwell’s novel has become part of contemporary language as the term ‘Orwellian’ references an entire matrix of concepts such as doublethink, newspeak, telescreen and memory hole. If you take time out of your lives to see this play you will certainly experience the raw power of a ‘cautionary tale!’

 

1984:

Directed by Jenni Bertels

Dates: July – July 28, 2018

Pentacle Theatre,
324 52nd Avenue, NW Salem.
(Salem-Dallas Hwy 22)

Price: $25
Box Office phone: (503) 485-4300