cast 1984


Derby Theatre


George Orwell wrote 19841 in 1949. Seventy years on Derby University productions have rebooted the story for the 21st Century. The undergraduates have produced every aspect of the show with the only external direction coming from co-directors, Theatre Arts Lecturer, Amanda Wallace, and Artistic Director, Sarah Brigham.

A quirk of fate sees the production taking place thirty five years after the title date, which was itself thirty five years after when it was written, in a slice of auspicious synchronicity.

The stage adaptation is by Nick Lane an actor turned director, as well as playwright. From 2006-2014 he was the Associate Director and Literary Manager of Hull Truck Theatre, a company with which he has had a long association and with whom he shares a connection with Derby Theatre’s Artistic Director, Sarah Brigham.

No production of 1984 could omit Orwell’s ubiquitous political slogans, this one uses them well. They loom all over the stage on giant screens, omnipresent, omniscient augmented by wall posters. Big Brother is everywhere. Tom Bathurst’s work as video and projection designer is impressive, the screens at various times sending out messages, watching, and live action interface in Room 101.

Chelsea Forde, is superb as Julia, the female lead in a story in which women fight to make their mark. Fey, but confident and self- assured, she draws the audience to her as surely as she lures the affections of Winston.

Director Amanda Wallace redresses the book’s gender imbalance on stage by creating a six strong female chorus of narrators, an innovative idea which works commendably in bridging the gaps between a three hundred page book and a two hour stage production.

Shania Waterson stood out, providing another strong female presence. They played a vital role in injecting volume, pace, energy, jeopardy, and a visceral presence, particularly in the sinister “Five Minute Hate” sequence


Ewan McConnachie plays an intense, reflective, neurotic Winston, in a role now laden with the reality of 21st Century surveillance. It builds to a cataclysmic climax in his betrayal of Julia. His nemesis, the spy O’Brien, is memorably portrayed by Robert Boyle with sinuous malevolence. he first act sets the scene, the second is where the narrative unfolds, the highlight of which is unquestionably Winston’s confrontation with rats in Room 101, skilfully utilising multi- media to great effect. Dominic Murray’s lighting design was monochromatic and powerful in white light. Jordan Stych’s sound sparse, but always complimentary. A single, two tier, stage set , designed by Jude Martin, functions well. The bedroom doubles into a torture chamber, a nice twist on the banning of sex – and beware naff hanging picture frames.

Costumier Emma Jayne Smith decided that any female hairstyle would do, so long as it was a blonde ponytail, a commitment which even Robert Boyle entered into. Boiler suits, and buttoned blousons created a uniform which were enormously effective visually, blending perfectly with the live action screens to chilling totalitarian effect.

Thematically the story fits perfectly into the 21st Century present.The three word slogans such as “Ignorance is strength” and “Freedom is Slavery” will be familiar to watchers of Trump, and “Build that Wall”, and Brexit with “Leave Means Leave”. Fake news abounds. Winston is coerced into declaring that four is five as nonsensically as our Parliament was recently confronted with the idea that an old deal was a new deal. The only difference being in O’Brien’s success with electric torture.

This is a hugely rewarding production. Inevitably "1984 cognoscenti" will argue about the minutiae of the page to stage adaptation. The second half is more satisfying than the first, but the overall result more than does justice to the book with every member of the cast enthusiastically contributing to a weighty and substantial whole.

Gary Longden




Derby Theatre


An interpretation of the novel by George Orwell, “1984” is a Derby theatre production, performed by contemporary theatre students from the university of Derby.

I must admit, I’m always sceptical when directors of film or theatre attempt to tackle such an iconic piece of literature, especially when the production is a student run project without a large budget – however co-directors Sarah Brigham and Amanda Wallace, definitely portrayed the disconcerting, and oddly familiar essence of Orwell’s novel, throughout the production.

One thing that is difficult when translating a piece of dystopian fiction into theatre, is the necessary mystery needed to categorise otherwise science fiction as just that, dystopian.

The production must portray both the bleak nature of the Oceania state, as described vibrantly by Orwell, whilst still maintaining the disorienting relatability that rendered 1984 a cult classic, still relevant within contemporary society. This production achieved that impeccably.

One of the first things that I noticed entering the theatre was the minimalistic set design, orchestrated by Jude Martin.


It enompassed both the typical décor that one would picture in a mid-twentieth century, communist Russia, whilst still being simplistic enough to maintain a historical ambiguity. This allows the audience to interpret both the context and time period for themselves – successfully relaying the universal and timeless nature of Orwell’s novel, the relatability of the premise being the most terrifying aspect of it.

This vague use of time period, relaying the fact that Orwell’s story is more relevant today than it was when it was written, is also followed through with costume, which I thought complemented it nicely. Designed by Emma Jane Smith, the simple outfit choices could not be pin-pointed to a specific period, further emphasising the fact that the censorship, and political power imbalance featured within the novel has always, and will always be prevalent within society.

Taking into consideration the limited use of props, and the simple set design, physical theatre was incorporated into the production very well, and successfully conveyed both the plot, and emotion intended, keeping the crucial mystery of the narrative. As with the ambiguous set design, the predominantly iridescent lighting used throughout the performance complemented the intensity of the dialogue. Especially during the “electrocution” scene, the synchronicity between the live action, and the lighting was powerfully immersive.

Although I was initially sceptical about how directors Brigham and Wallace would effectively translate such a complex, and political novel onto the stage; and though at times I felt that I didn’t receive as much information about the dystopian society, and the intricate histories of both Winston and Julia as I did whilst reading the novel, the multiple narrators were crucial to conveying the plot of the narrative.

I enjoyed how at times, narrators would pull directly from Orwell’s prose, which complemented the overall immersive nature of the production. However, if I had not already understood the basic motifs and themes within the novel, then I may have had less understanding of what was happening on stage, as sometimes I felt that the narrative itself may have been lost slightly under an effort to terrify the audience, with intense soundscapes and physical theatre.

The acting was breath-taking, especially during the most intense scenes, like the “electrocution” and “rat” scene during the second half of act two. Ewan McConnachie portrayed the empathetic, yet often selfish nature of Winston’s character very well, and I think that his nervousness within act one, added to the complexity of the character. In terms of both acting, and the overall mood of the production, act two was stronger than act one.

1984 desk

Though the physical theatre and overall mood of the first few scenes were immersive, the audience weren’t given much context which made it difficult to understand at times particularly for anyone unfamiliar with the story. The directors’ distinctive style merged seamlessly with Orwell’s plot, and many of the critical scenes within the second half made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

One of the most memorable aspects of the production was the heated soundscapes, which utilised a large cast, and the position of the narrators to form a terrifying, and immersive experience. It allowed the tone and mood of each scene to fluctuate , even though the set remained constant and unchanging. The use of the television screens and visuals, alongside the sound scapes further increased how involved the audience felt within the production, even with a limited number of props.

The transitions bringing pieces of set on and off stage was seamless, which is crucial to making a dystopian back-drop seem believable. However, I and others felt that particularly in act one, the projection of the actors was sometimes low, and although I never struggled to understand what they were saying, sometimes the low volume meant that my focus on the production itself fluctuated.

Furthermore, not all of the cast seemed to be wearing microphones, which meant that they had to shout to be heard in places where a delicate tone would have been more appropriate, perhaps taking away from the emotional atmosphere in some of the scenes. However, the issue appeared to have been rectified by the second act, which was overall far stronger than the first.

Overall Sarah Brigham and Amanda Wallace’s presentation was very strong in conveying the disconcerting themes laced throughout Orwell’s book, predominantly through set design, costume and impeccable acting. The performance was extremely immersive and definitely did George Orwell’s dystopian novel justice.

Emily Steele

(Sixth Form Student)


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