1. You have directed plays in the Alte Schauspielhaus before. Are there any connecting ideas why you chose Miller’S „The Crucible“, Wedekind’s „Frühlingserwachen“ and now Orwell’s „1984“?
Great question. Although I hadn’t consciously thought about it there are connections between the three plays. I am drawn to works that explore the relationship between the state and the individual. Both The Crucible and Frühlingserwachen highlight the brutality of a certain kind of authoritarian male and the blind, destructive obedience of citizens fearful of being ostracised by the church and their local community. 1984 continues this theme, the conflict between collective authority and individual expression, and pushes it to its extreme.
2. The totalitarian state that Orwell, from his experience of totalitarian systems in the 1930s, envisaged after the end of World War II, looks quite different from mass media controlled systems today. How are you going to put this on stage – with NSA and Putin’s media war in mind, or more in the context of Orwell’s nightmare?
Barely a minute goes by when Orwell isn’t name-checked on Twitter. The world is awash with 1984’s phrases. As more and more CCTV cameras go up we say Big Brother Is Watching Us. As politicians talk party dogma we accuse them of Doublespeak. America’s War On Terror is a perfect example of War Is Peace. We even use the term Orwellian as a universal shorthand for anything repressive or totalitarian. In a piece in Politico, Timothy Snyder advises, “To understand Putin, read Orwell.” Without doubt, the novel is as relevant today as it was when it was written in 1948. My favourite discovery when researching the piece was a wonderful quote I found on Pinterest which reads, 1984 Was A Warning Not An Instructional Manual.
The danger with staging 1984 is being too specific. If you set it in war-torn 1948 when it was written you distance the audience from its reality. If you set it now and insinuate Big Brother is Putin or Obama or Merkel and Goldstein is Snowden it becomes too literal, too obvious, the audience will not be able to immerse themselves in the story because they are being tripped up by these contemporary references.
Orwell wrote a futuristic-cautionary tale and that’s the line we’ve taken. We’ve focussed on the elements that make the book so startlingly relevant 66 years since it was published and set it in the not too distant future, a world not unfamiliar to us.
I don’t like to besiege the spectator with a hammer, shouting, ‘Look, this is what is happening now!’ I hope they are able to see the obvious parallels without this.
3. I’m not familiar with Lyddiart’s stage version: how many characters apart from Winston, Julia and O’Brien? How about the masses and Big Brother? Is torture a theme in the play?
Parsons, Syme and Charrington are also present as well as the infamous Thought Police. Big Brother is still watching and the masses (the proles) are much discussed.
A third of the book takes place in the Ministry Of Love, where O’Brien ‘cures’ Winston. Similarly the play details at length the effectiveness of torture as a tool to control subversion in a totalitarian state. Here, though, torture is not limited to physical suffering, but also encompasses mind control, brainwashing, and indoctrination. As O’Brien says, “Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.
As part of our research we examined the CIA’s approach to torture post 9/11. In a disturbingly pertinent example of Doublespeak the CIA renamed their torture tactics ‘Enhanced Interrogation’ and subjected detainees to prolonged stress positions, hooding, subjection to deafening noise, sleep deprivation to the point of hallucination, deprivation of food and drink — as well as waterboarding, walling, nakedness, subjection to extreme cold, confinement in small coffin-like boxes, and repeated slapping or beating. The CIA report hit the headlines as we started rehearsal and we collectively decided that we wanted to draw attention to the abhorrent techniques used in Guantanamo.
The torture is very important and encompasses one of the major questions the piece asks: How does one remain human in an inhuman world? Can Winston cling on to his humanity or will the Party extinguish it?