1984 (NHB Modern Plays)
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1984 (NHB Modern Plays)

George Orwell, Nick Hern

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  1. 72 pages
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

1984 (NHB Modern Plays)

George Orwell, Nick Hern

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About This Book

Winston Smith is in prison, found guilty of Thoughtcrimes against Big Brother. As part of his reconstruction, he must re-enact key moments from his past life, with the help of other thought criminals, so that everyone can learn from his mistakes. Including his biggest mistake of all: falling in love with Julia.

George Orwell's classic dystopia 1984 is a still-resonant vision of the tolls of living under totalitarianism. Constructed almost entirely from dialogue taken from the original novel, this bold and powerful dramatisation restores the blazing heart of Orwell's work: a doomed love story, with the lovers at its centre.

This pre-eminently stageable version, adapted with an eye on economy by Nick Hern for a cast of five or more, is ideal for any school, youth group or amateur company looking to bring Orwell's chilling vision to life on stage.

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Darkness. A door opens and a shaft of light illuminates WINSTON, who turns towards the light, startled and fearful. O’BRIEN is standing silhouetted in the doorway.
WINSTON (his voice hoarse and croaky). O’Brien! They’ve got you too!
O’BRIEN (with a mild, almost regretful irony). They got me a long time ago.
He steps aside. A broad-chested GUARD emerges from behind him, a long black truncheon in his hand.
You knew this, Winston. Don’t deceive yourself. You did know it – you have always known it.
The GUARD advances on WINSTON, his truncheon raised to strike.
* * *
In the darkness, a clock strikes thirteen. The lights come up on a bare, windowless, institutional room in which, seated in a semicircle, is a group of prisoners – two men and a woman – in the blue overalls of ordinary Party members. There is a telescreen on one wall; it remains blank throughout the scene. Also on the walls is a poster with the slogan: ‘Big Brother is watching you!’ The three slogans of the Party could also be on the walls: ‘War is Peace’, ‘Freedom is Slavery’, ‘Ignorance is Strength’. Presiding over the group is O’BRIEN, bespectacled and in the black overalls of the Inner Party. He has a folder of documents on his lap.
O’BRIEN. Good morning, Comrades. In today’s deconstruction exercise, we will work on the case of Prisoner 6079. Smith. Winston Smith. As part of your own reconstruction, you will be re-enacting significant episodes from his past life, so that, as Thought Criminals yourselves, you can learn from his mistakes. By re-enacting them, we can determine the exact moments that Smith committed each of his Thoughtcrimes. And we can see how one Thoughtcrime led to another. (Referring to the file.) How he flouted the principles of INGSOC. How he was half-hearted in his employment of the techniques of doublethink. How he tried to hide from the telescreens. How he failed to participate fully in the Two-Minutes Hate or in Hate Week. How he persisted in believing in the existence of a secret underground society. How he consorted unnecessarily with proles. How, above all, he placed the life of the individual above that of the Party. (Pause. He looks at the prisoners.) As is usual in our deconstructions, the prisoner will be present and will participate in your work.
The door opens and WINSTON is shoved into the room. He has come from a long spell in the cells, and his overalls have become worn and grimy. O’BRIEN indicates a chair. WINSTON sits. As he is questioned, the other prisoners occasionally take notes.
Name and number?
WINSTON. 6079 Smith W.
WINSTON. Thirty-nine.
O’BRIEN. Address?
WINSTON. 793F Victory Mansions.
O’BRIEN. Place of work?
WINSTON. Ministry of Truth. Records Department.
O’BRIEN. Hours of work?
WINSTON. Eight till eight, six days a week.
O’BRIEN. Nature of work?
WINSTON. Rewriting history.
O’BRIEN (after a heavy pause, falsely polite). Would you care to rephrase that?
WINSTON. Rectifying the official record.
O’BRIEN. Thank you. Example?
WINSTON (after a moment’s thought). In a back number of The Times which was about the war against Eurasia, Big Brother had predicted that the South Indian front would remain quiet but that the Eurasians would attack North Africa. In fact, the Eurasians had attacked South India and left North Africa alone. It was my job to rewrite…
O’BRIEN reacts.
It was my job to rectify the announcement so that Big Brother is seen to predict what actually happened.
O’BRIEN. Anything else?
WINSTON. Statistics.
O’BRIEN (wanting more). Statistics?
WINSTON (an inward sigh as he gathers his thoughts). A short time ago the Ministry of Plenty issued a promise – a ‘categorical pledge’, they called it – that there would be no reduction in the chocolate ration during the whole of 1984. Well, you know and I know that the chocolate ration was reduced – from thirty grams a week to twenty. So it was my job to remove the promise and turn it into a warning that ‘it would probably be necessary to reduce the ration’.
O’BRIEN (addressing the other prisoners). You see here, Comrades, the beginnings of Thoughtcrime. ‘You and I know…’ This is a clear and wilful misunderstanding of the principles of ‘doublethink’. The Party demands that we know and yet not know. That we are able to hold two opinions which cancel each other out, to forget what it is necessary to forget and then draw it back into memory when it is needed and then forget it again. And to apply this process to the process itself. In other words, to obey, as the Party demands, the principles of ‘doublethink’. (He turns back to WINSTON.) And yet you enjoyed your work?
WINSTON (after a pause). It was probably my greatest pleasure in life. Until… (He checks himself.)
O’BRIEN. Until…?
WINSTON says nothing.
‘Until you met Julia’, you were going to say?
WINSTON stays silent.
(Briskly.) But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Tell us about your diary.
WINSTON (hesitantly at first). One day I saw this book in the window of a junk shop. I shouldn’t really have been there: Party members are not supposed to go into ordinary shops. They’re for the proles. But the moment I saw that book I knew I had to possess it.
O’BRIEN. What sort of book was it?
WINSTON. It was a notebook, but it must have been ages old because the paper was smooth and creamy. They don’t make things like that any more.
O’BRIEN. And you decided to use that book to keep a diary?
WINSTON. There’s an alcove in my room. It was probably built to hold bookshelves. But if I sit in this alcove and keep well back, I can’t be seen by the telescreen.
O’BRIEN. So you thought you were out of range of the Thought Police?
WINSTON is silent.
Because you knew that what you were doing was a Thoughtcrime?
WINSTON says nothing.
And what did you write in this ‘diary’?
WINSTON. Oh, just nonsense really.
O’BRIEN. Nonsense? What kind of nonsense? (He pauses, then produces WINSTON’s diary from inside his folder.) This sort of nonsense? (He reads from the diary.) ‘Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four.’ (Mocking.) What can you have meant by that, Winston?
WINSTON stays silent.
Or this? ‘If there is hope, it lies in the proles.’
(After a pause, coldly angry.) Or this sort of nonsense? ‘Down with Big Brother. They’ll shoot me. I don’t care. They’ll shoot me in the back of the neck. Down with Big Brother. They come in the night. You disappear. You’re vaporised. I don’t care. Down with Big Brother.’
The other prisoners have reacted with shock and nervousness to this outright blasphemy. WINSTON looks lost.
(Closes the diary and addresses the prisoners.) That’s enough for this session, Comrades. Next time we will begin the re-enactments. You will be given your scripts to learn. You will rehearse with one of the Party reconstructionists, and you will be word-perfect by the time we meet again.
He stands and makes for the door, indicating that WINSTON should follow him. After they have both gone, the prisoners sit on in stunned silence.
Lights down.
* * *
Lights up.
The same room with the same chairs and the same prisoners a week or more later. There is a ‘props table’ to one side with the various things on it which will be needed in the re-enactments. The prisoners have scripts on their laps and are studying them. O’BRIEN comes in, followed by WINSTON. The others sit to attention like pupils in class when the teacher enters. O’BRIEN and WINSTON sit.
O’BRIEN. Good morning, Comrades. We will start with Winston Smith’s first meeting with Julia Edmunds in the canteen at the Ministry of Truth. Winston, you will supply any additional information that might be needed. (Looking at the female prisoner.) You, presumably, will be taking the role of Julia? (Looking at the male prisoners.) Which one of you is Smith?
W2 indicates that it is him.
Right. (Looking at the third prisoner.) And so you’ll be doing all the others? We need a table and three chairs.
The prisoners organise this.
Right. The first meeting…
WINSTON. That wasn’t actually our first meeting – the one in the canteen…
O’BRIEN. Go on.
WINSTON. I’d noticed her but I hadn’t spoken to her. In fact I was sure she was an agent of the Thought Police and she was spying on me. I even saw her outside the junk shop where I bought my diary. As a member of the Party, she shouldn’t have been there any more than me. I hated her, but I lusted after her at the same time, even though she was a member of the Anti-Sex League. (Pause.) Then one day she was in the corridor outside the Fiction Department, walking towards me. As we passed she suddenly stumbled. Without thinking, I reached out a hand to stop her falling – and I could feel her press something into my palm. It was a tiny scrap of paper folded into a square. I didn’t dare ope...

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