Manchester Central Library; Tuesday 5th February, 2019
Tuesday, April 4th, 2084. Comrade #6079 (Smith) is a docile Level 2 Records Administrator and member of the Outer Party in the Ministry of Truth, Oceania.
#6079 has a specific job function – to obediently adhere to whatever truths the Inner Party wishes to promote, specifically by adjusting and amending historical documents to match the prevailing paradigm.
Whoever controls the past controls the future: whoever controls the present controls the past.
Pure Expression Theatre are specialists in producing immersive performances in grand old spaces and 2084 is certainly that. The plot, the characters and the sinister themes of the George Orwell novel 1984 all form the basis of this 90-minute performance that makes excellent use of the Gothic menace that is Manchester’s famous Central Library.
The action begins in the reception area, with the audience split into three groups and each individual being given a set of headphones. The sweeping low-tone violin music immediately sets the mood – though the notes are pleasantly serene and calming, a slow sense of paranoia begins to set in: maybe Big Brother wants you to calm down and relax so that he can brainwash you?
The sense of creeping paranoia is beautifully deepened by what happens next: a brief walking tour around some of the library’s public areas. Each audience group follows one of the three lead characters as they scurry here, there and everywhere with their heads down, only occasionally stopping to exchange nervous glances, or to perform a dutiful party salute as a sign of their compliance.
Weaving in amongst the bookshelves and desks, genuine library users (students, bookworms, party members?) look up from their glowing screens to glare at the headphone-clad passers by. It felt intrusive to be there and a strange sense of self-consciousness began to overwhelm. And all the while an occasional voice in the headphones provided a subtle reminder that it is good to obey.
The library is such an enormous space: the giant stone blocks; the cavernous central room with its epic domed roof; huge beams holding it all up. Being amongst such impossible grandeur and knowing that actual members of the public are trying to go about their normal business makes for a slightly troubling yet also incredibly inspiring experience.
The bulk of the performance took place away from the public eye in a confined, window-less space which only served to ratchet up the growing feeling that something uncomfortable was about to happen.
This too was more than just a passive experience of watching a performance being acted out – the audience were constantly made to stand and to sit and to change places; to recite powerful words approved by the Party; and to even join in a two-minute outburst of Hate. This was a performance that required ‘assimilation’ with the ways of the Party, it was clear we were fully part of the investigation into the activities of Comrade #6079.
The manner in which the closing stages of this performance are delivered is outstanding – even for someone who knows the original story well. Without giving too much away it is as far as I’ve ever seen the concept of “immersive theatre” go – possibly too far given the number of audience members who came away visibly distressed and in tears. It might have gone too far but it deserves credit, as well as perhaps a sternly-worded trigger warning or two.
2084 is a disturbing and at times threatening piece of performance theatre, yet that also makes it so wonderfully alluring in exactly the same way that the concepts of the original novel were. Pure Expression Theatre have fused the imposing physicality of Manchester’s Central Library with the appalling horror of George Orwell’s dystopian nightmare to create a thrilling piece of theatrical entertainment.
|Visual pleasure||The walking tour taking in the grandeur of the Central Library was exquisite, and set the mood nicely. Even the main performance was outstanding with huge effort going into the video clips and lighting – all of which genuinely created the terrifying feeling that there is no choice but to obey and to serve.||5|
|Auditory pleasure||The 15-minute recording used for the walking tour was an impressive blend of musical grandeur and spoken words that worked so well and complemented the awe-inspiring architecture being seen. In the main performance the use of microphones to create the sense of recorded audio added greatly to the concept that the “evidence” against Comrade #6079 was compelling.||5|
|Architecture & Theme||Faithfully sticks to the themes and plot of the original novel but also adds so much more with multiple tricks to not only get the audience involved but to also literally make them part of the story.||5|
|Artistic delivery||Good performances from the three lead players, aided and abetted by several assistants / party members. Didn’t quite feel as organic as it perhaps should have done, with some themes not quite exploited enough e.g. the betrayal of Winston Smith, and the devious scheming and manipulation by the Party.||3|
|Overall impact||So much effort has gone into this show and though “immersive theatre” is such a cliche these days this genuinely did the trick by adding huge value each time the audience got involved, none more so than the closing scene, which is outstanding.||4|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|