A harshly-lit face looms over the audience. The doors are sealed. Around you in the dark, jumpsuit-clad workers stand at attention. “Standby for the two minute hate.” You’ve entered the world of “1984” at Lake Braddock Secondary School.
In George Orwell’s future, what used to be England is ruled by Big Brother, who controls the lives, hopes and even the thoughts of his subjects. Winston Smith, a common worker dares to believe in personal freedom and the power of love. He and his lover Julia attempt to find a life outside of the prying eyes of Big Brother. When they are betrayed, Big Brother wants revenge.
Mark Jennings as Winston Smith gave a fine performance as the searching soul who questions authority and his role in society. Nora Turner’s Julia represents the freedom that Winston seeks, and Turner’s zeal and unflagging optimism energized each of her scenes. An outstanding performance was given by Cameron Doucette as O’Brien, a seemingly sympathetic rebel who betrayed Winston and Julia. His portrayal of friendly evil was chilling and hypnotic.
The lighting designed by Kristen Ries was superb, with many special effects, including two high-powered spotlights to mimic helicopter searchlights during Winston and Julia’s arrest, flickering lights chillingly employed during the torture scene, and a giant dropdown video projection screen on which Big Brother and other figures of authority appeared, manipulating and intimidating Winston and the audience.
The set by Andrew Bare was sparse, the only fixtures being two large black ramps which served multiple purposes as podiums, jail-cell walls, and a bleak cafeteria line. The sound was nearly flawless and the actors projected well, which resulted in only a handful of inaudible lines.
“1984” is an interesting selection for a high school production. It is a violent play, full of beatings, torture and executions. In a shocking scene, a torture victim spits bloody teeth across the stage. A host of workers in identical jumpsuits filled the stage in an ominous display of submission to Big Brother. The society appears outwardly peaceful, with cast extras filling the outer theater seats, yelling encouragement and proclaiming loyalty for Big Brother’s pronouncements. Only out of public view is the true violent nature of the state revealed.
George Orwell wrote “1984” as a cautionary tale, concerned with the path Stalinism was taking in the Soviet Union. His vision of a totalitarian society has fascinated us ever since. “1984” has no happy ending, Big Brother still rules and the people suffer. Lake Braddock’s production demonstrated that Orwell’s vision can still terrify and still affirms our humanity.