The real Big Brother is watching you

George Orwell's fictional image of the future was a bleak one. He pictured it is as a time when Big Brother would be watching 24 hours a day and no one would be free from the glare of an overbearing power.

By Jo Macdonald

George Orwell's fictional image of the future was a bleak one.

He pictured it is as a time when Big Brother would be watching 24 hours a day and no one would be free from the glare of an overbearing power. 1984 may now be long gone but with the latest theatrical adaptation of the acclaimed novel opening the autumn season at the New Wolsey on Tuesday, JO MACDONALD asks whether George Orwell's work was more prophecy than fiction.

IN 1948 George Orwell conjured up a sinister vision of the future.

He pictured it as a time when personal freedom would be eradicated, when every movement would be monitored and every word listened to by the prying eyes and ears of a greater force.

It was to be an age when the words Big Brother had the power to instil fear into the hearts and souls of everyone who heard them.

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It was to be a totalitarian world.

It was to be 1984.

That year has been and gone with little to suggest the novel was an accurate prediction of the future, however with more and more influences coming to bear on our everyday lives it is possible that Orwell's vision was more prophetic than at first believed.

"Orwell got the date wrong but when it comes to his prophecy and how we will be owned but made to feel like we're being cared for, it's not far off. That's how terrifying it is," suggested Craig Conway, who steps into the shoes of Orwell's protagonist Winston Smith in the latest stage adaptation of his acclaimed novel which arrives at the New Wolsey Theatre on Tuesday.

"We're going on in a similar way that to me strikes as control. We convince people that they are doing the right thing and that we need to stop others in order to gain power. For example, we have people going off to war even when there is no actual war happening."

The extremes of manipulation in evidence today are a far cry from those which Orwell, who once lived in Southwold, scripted for Winston but it could be argued that the beginnings of domination are beginning to seep in.

And terms like Big Brother and Room 101 may have been swallowed into our everyday vocabulary as references to channels of entertainment but the menacing connotations which accompany them are slowly coming to fruition.

Take for example the recent trend for television reality shows in which strangers surrender all personal freedom to be watched 24 hours a day in the name of entertainment.

If rumours are to be believed, the people who clamoured to be part of these shows are now fighting back against the negative implications of their willingness to hand over control of their lives by suing the television companies who watched over them.

But while these people may have willingly handed over their lives to others there is a more sinister threat to personal freedom which is largely out of our control.

Every time we walk down the street or enter a shop close circuit television cameras records our every move. Whenever we log into our email or onto the internet there are people with the ability to tap into and monitor the messages we write and the sites we visit.

And ever smaller cameras and bugs are being invented with which to secretly film and listen in to the goings on of others.

The problem exists however whether we continue to accept this scrutiny as being in our best interests, a means by which our personal safety is being guarded, or whether we start to view it as an infringement on our freedom. The question is where do the two lines cross? Have we started on the road to an Orwellian future?

It is with this in mind that the Northern Stage production of 1984, though staying true to Orwell's story, thrusts Winston into the 21st century, a multi-media world of modern technology where Big Brother monitors life with the aid of all-seeing telescreens.

"Winston Smith is an anti-hero who still has connection with the old world, before it was taken over by Big Brother," Craig explained of the tale he is helping to bring to the stage. "He starts to create a journey of discovery to link back to what the world was like before and what it should be like again.

"He finds himself falling in love with Julia and they start trying to live a normal life together. They meet O'Brien and think they have found another grand social revolutionary who wants to fight Big Brother and change the world. However, O'Brien sets them up and has in fact been monitoring them for the last seven years. Everything around them has been set up to make them think."

He continued: "It's set in modern day with the idea of using technology of today but the actual piece is still very much Orwell's vision.

"It's an industrial set, a bleak world in grey with limited movement and expression. It's a world where people are existing without physical expression until the love story with Julia begins."

Show director Alan Lyddiard added: "It has been the intention to create a powerful young vibrant piece that pulls no punches. By using large scale video footage filmed on location in Moscow and Newcastle we want to recreate Orwell's cold oppressive inhuman world in which relationships cannot survive and the only emotions permitted are fear and triumph."

1984 is a depressive tale, especially when viewed in the light of the ever-increasing monitoring techniques of modern day living, but one which can be used to give hope. However a remote a possibility may exist of it becoming complete reality, by accepting Orwell's portrayal of a future where the few control the majority, there remains the possibility of safeguarding our future independence and freedom.

"The novel and story are depressing," admitted Craig, "but at the same time there is something about the idea of watching something which still gives hope. This could actually happen and more so now than ever before. Everywhere around us we're being watched."

"It's not a piece where people will come out wanting to celebrate," he continued in relation to the production in which he stars. "It's an experience that will affect people in many different ways – some are angry, some are upset, others are intrigued.

"It's a new piece of theatre that is dynamic, something we probably won't see again in this life. It's political and kind of controversial but there's a proper human story there which will give you a hope in humanity."

"It's also a celebration of one of the greatest writer's we've ever had," he added.

It remains to be seen whether today's world will ever succumb to the harrowing domination and control depicted by Orwell in 1984 but with the increasing ability of the few to monitor the behaviour of the many, whether it be through reality TV or CCTV, it is a vision that is becoming ever more possible.

His predicted dates may have been wrong but with the emergence of greater and more inquisitive technology we can only wait to see whether Orwell's fictional foresight will ever be regarded as indisputable prophecy.


1984 is at the New Wolsey Theatre from September 10 to 14. Tickets cost £5.95 to £19.95 and are available at the theatre in Civic Drive, Ipswich, by calling 01473 295900 or online at

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