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!”