Jolien van der Burgt is from the Netherlands, studies in Belgium, and was a PAA Technical Theatre Intern in London this summer.
Since I’m probably the only living person on this planet who never read 1984 by George Orwell, I decided that I would see the stage play this summer in London. It was a really good decision. It was an amazing play, with probably the best scenic design I have seen in a long time.
If you’ve read the book you most likely remember how it ends and that there is a pretty extreme and gruesome scene where Winston is tortured by Big Brother. On stage this is not sensored in the slightest. It was by far one of the most realistic and scary scenes I’ve ever seen live on a stage (and believe me, I’ve seen a lot). That being said, I think it was a great play and it is worth watching.
Now for a little plot twist in this blog…
While in London, I was interning at an arts centre. They had acting courses for children in August and you can imagine my surprise when the director tells me he is doing 1984 with 8-12 year olds.
He felt it was more interesting for the kids to do a play with some substance, and one of the most well known stories in English literature.
Since I was asked to operate the lights during the performance for the parents, I got a chance to see how they worked with the story. To my surprise, they were able to tell the whole story in 20 minutes with no more than 5 actors.
4 girls played Julia and Big Brother, while the only boy played Winston. They started the story as an article in the paper, one by one they read a piece and start explaining the story. This then progresses in to a visualization of the rest of the story, in this visual part, the torture scene was incorporated, but rather than physical torture, things were said to torture Winston mentally.
They ended their short play how they started it, by continuing to read the article from where the visualized part stopped.
In the end I was surprised by how well they told the story, and how well the kids knew the story, while still showing it in a child friendly manner.
I felt very honoured to be able to be a part of this and to see how, in a playful way, kids can get to know an important piece of literature.