Auckland Arts Festival; 1984 – The birth of fake news

1984 by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan
ASB Waterfront Theatre
Until March 25

The clock strikes 13 as we enter the world of Winston Smith, the anti-hero or non-hero who writes some private thoughts in his banned diary. It is the surreal world of 1984 where nothing is as it seems, where people and events are adapted to the needs of the state and Big Brother.

The dystopian classic 1984 became a bestseller and even sold out on Amazon in the US, in a few days after Donald Trump’s adviser Kellyanne Conway coined the term “alternative facts” when asked to explain why press secretary Sean Spicer had made a statement to reporters riddled with inaccuracies.

Alternative facts and “fake news” seems to be close to Orwell’s world of Newspeak where language can be amended, changed and adapted to suit the political notions of the day.

Winston, played by Tom Conroy, works in the Ministry of Truth where his job is to rewrite history but he is aware of the reality and the morality of his work and wants change. He is, however, a pale version of Edward Snowden as he struggles to be a revolutionary as well as maintain his own life and sanity within the confines of his totalitarian world, finding solace in a private room with his girlfriend Julia, played by Rose Riley.

Conroy handles the conflicting emotions and relationships superbly as he ranges from the catatonic to the disruptive.

The private thoughts that Winston writes have repercussions for him, as they ripple out in this adaptation of Orwell’s 1984, which has a secondary plot line of a reading group discussing the book, the author's intention, the reality of Oceania at some time in the future.

The setting for the drama is a wood-panelled room looking like a bureaucratic interior of last century and the various characters are dressed in contemporary clothes while the closing scenes of Winston’s torture in the Ministry of Love are a white cube with his liberator/tormentor O Brien (Terence Crawford) assisted by men in white hazmat suits.

None of the characters in the work is heroic. Conroy’s idealistic Everyman betrays his love, O‘Brien who presents as a bureaucrat intent on bringing down the system reveals himself as a ruthless enforcer and one of Winston’s friends is happy because his daughter has informed on him.

The fact that the book group is discussing the book and that Big Brother, and the world described in 1984 has collapsed, gives hope unlike the book where the author writes of Winston: “In front of him there lay not death but annihilation. The diary would be reduced to ashes and himself to vapour. Only the Thought Police would read what he had written before they wiped it out of existence and out of memory. How could you make an appeal to the future when not a trace of you, not even an anonymous word scribbled on a piece of paper, could physically survive?

This is supplied content and not commissioned or paid for by NBR.