Damien's blog
May 2009
Damien writes...

It is three weeks or so before our production of
1984 at the
National Media Museum and to say we are all excited by the
prospect is a bit of an understatement! Yesterday we got to
rehearse in the Pictureville Cinema at the Museum, and to be on
the stage with the Cinerama screen behind us was a real buzz.
Having the face of John Hurt in his guise as Big Brother looming
over the proceedings made it all the more surreal. You can see
some of the rehearsal images on the site now to get a sense of
the production.

Lots of people have asked us how we managed to get John
involved in the project, and to be honest; we just asked him! We
were having a production meeting earlier in the year where we
were discussing how we were going to portray Big Brother in the
show when someone said, “It would be really cool if we could get
John Hurt to do it!” (We had all recently watched the Michael
Radford film version starring John, and the irony of having
‘Winston Smith’ now being BB was tantalising) So someone from
the Museum contacted John’s agent and, after a couple of
weeks, a positive response came back provided we could work
around John’s busy schedule. I think we would have pretty much
gone anywhere at anytime to work with John Hurt, so a trip to the
National Science Museum in London was hardly a difficulty. I
didn’t actually go to the filming (Ben and Martin can tell you all
about that!) and in a way I’m glad I didn’t because I would
probably have made a complete fool of myself and just gibbered
if he spoke to me!

Suffice it to say that John was a consummate professional and
was genuinely interested in the company and what we are trying
to achieve. [
www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/1984] I think and
hope that he saw in us a company dedicated to bringing quality
theatre to people who might not necessarily have the means or
opportunity to go. There is much written and said about the
power of live theatre to transform peoples’ lives and, in the
current climate we can all benefit from the regeneration of our
cultural lives.

Those of you who know Bradford will know that it is in the grip of
recession and has lost its confidence as a city. Overshadowed
by Leeds and looking jealously at Sheffield, Manchester,
Liverpool et al it desperately needs to find its own identity again.
Real, lasting regeneration will not come from a shopping centre
or loft-style apartments (although they might help) it will come
when the city can regain its (multi) cultural and artistic identity
and confidence. Paper Zoo is a small part of that regeneration. I
think John Hurt saw that in our work and outlook.

Orwell saw a bleak, dystopian future ahead in the severe, post-
war years. Some might argue that his predictions were right on
the money. We are a surveillance society – I have certainly
become increasingly aware of just how many cameras watch our
every move. Next time you are out, count how many cameras or
notices warning of CCTV you see. They’re on buses and in taxis
now too! Big corporations track our spending habits, computer
programmes log our keystrokes and analyse our browsing
habits. It isn’t just a conspiracy theory; Big Brother really is
watching us.

So it has been an enormous challenge to play Winston Smith. He
lives in turmoil; trapped by the regime yet railing against it. He
feels so much but is unable to show those feelings to anyone. He
finds love and redemption in Julia. He makes a stand against
authority and is crushed by the weight of The Party. He is
tortured and broken. But in the end it is a warning – “Look how
things could turn out if we don’t watch out!” If we can make one
person think about their relationship with the society we live in; if
they don’t just accept what they are fed by the media machine
but rather question what they are told then we will have done
something positive.

My heartfelt thanks go to my wife and my fellow company
members for their continued support and good humour (even
the giggling during the photo shoots!) and to the good people at
the National Media Museum for asking us to do it in the first
place. I hope that any of you that can make it to the show enjoy
the production. We’d love to hear your feedback. Thank you for
your ongoing support – we couldn’t do it without you.

“If you can hold on to your humanity, if you can stay a human
being even when there can be no result whatever…you’ve
beaten them!”

Best Wishes