Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four The Play Sheffield

Ekspan has teamed up with Open Door Theatre Company, a Sheffield based theatre group, to transform our 15,000 sq ft Brightside factory into a live theatre space for the staging of George Orwell’s iconic novel ‘1984’ – where only a venue of this size would do it justice 10th November 2009 to 20th November 2009 Brightside Factory – Ekspan Ltd

In Orwell’s frightening vision of the future, society is under the control of Big Brother. Every aspect of life is closely monitored, while any hint of unorthodoxy is ruthlessly suppressed by the thought police. Winston Smith, a secret rebel works at The Ministry of Truth, the party’s propaganda machine. He yearns for liberty and finds new hope when he falls in love with the dark haired Julie. Instead he discovers a nightmare world of terror where the price of freedom is betrayal.

A remarkable collaboration between industry and the arts breaks new ground to stage this production in a 15,000 square foot factory space, and create a live theatre experience that dissolves the barrier between audience and performance. A Brightside factory, made available by Sheffield engineering company Ekspan Ltd, will be transformed by The Open Door Theatre Company to thrill the audience with a novel experience of Orwell’s masterpiece.

On Wednesday the 4th June 1949 , the novel by George Orwell 1984 was published. Following on from his previous best seller, Animal Farm, the world was eager to receive it. Within a year it had sold 50,000 copies in the U.K. alone with U.S. sales topping 300,000. In the 60th anniversary year no one knows precisely how many million copies have been sold worldwide. Nevertheless, 1984 has been studied, copies, adapted for film, television, radio and the stage and been ransacked for its ideas. The ‘Orwellian’ concept has now become deeply imbedded in our consciousness. Big Brother, Room 101, Newspeak, Doublethink, 2+2 =5, the Two Minute Hate now take on universal understanding and have become central to our imaginative understanding. When was the last time you heard a politician answer a question that didn’t use a large slice of ‘newspeak’ or didn’t invoke the idea of ‘doublethink’?

The Story

There are few novels that have had such a profound effect on the way societies think, behave and live as does 1984. But what makes 1984 stand out?  The storyline is a simple one. It is the story of Winston Smith, a middle aged man’s struggle to maintain his freedom, especially his freedom to think and his doomed love affair with the dark haired, Julia. His fight to reclaim the future through the past becomes a desperate battle leading to his eventual defeat and destruction by the agents of ‘Big Brother’. Set in London against a background of a post nuclear, post revolutionary society. One group ‘The Party’ have seized power and in doing so they have eradicated all freedom of movement, of speech and above all the freedom of thought. The inability for any one individual to assert any of these ideas, which in themselves, form the very basis of our human existence, only serves to strengthen the power and control the ruling technocrats have over their fellow citizens.

The world of 1984 is a stark, bleak place where all freedoms are non-existent. Even a raised eyebrow or look in the wrong direction becomes a punishable offence as ‘facecrime.’ Only the very basic amenities to live are available with food, coffee, alcohol, cigarettes and  electricity being rationed. Even sexual relations between party members is banned. The only purpose of living is to serve the party.The world has split into three waring superstates, Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. False wars are created between the states where idealogy or winning or losing in not their purpose. Alliances change like shifting sands all of which serve to increase the pursuit and iron grip of power which is the end in itself.

The Ideas

1984 is a polemic on the totalitarian ideal regardless of what political system this may represent. It is in fact a satire on Stalinism from the description of Big Brother’s face, full of power, yet with a benign all knowing smile that hides the cruelty that lives within, and the split in the party led by Trotsky figure, Emmanuel Goldstein. As a work of fiction, 1984 is a powerful piece of popular entertainment. Written at a time when serious fiction seemed deigned merely for the author’s gratification or at best for a limited literay coterie, this novel operates with exactly the opposite intention. It left George Orwell’s hands, went out into the world and changed it.

It performed the one purpose of nailing for ever, certain tricks and tendencies of the ruling classes. It set us on our guard. Sixty years on, this is an achievement worth celebrating. The Play Staging 1984 as live theatre is a celebration of the work of one of the UK’s finest writers of the 20th century. Its purpose is to present a live recreation of the story and world of 1984 as seen through Orwell’s eyes.  Whilst the book has been adapted for film and t.v. stage versions up until now have been rare. Perhaps the reason is that to capture the depth and dark elements 1984 represent, become a limiting factor in a live presentation. How to get inside the mind of Winston Smith and present his struggle to break out of his confined existence offers a major challenge to any actor or director.

The world of 1984 is big; it operates on multi levels of consciousness and therefore it needs be big to make a serious impact to challenge its audience. The advantage of producing this play in the chosen environment is that it provides the opportunity to do exactly that. Working with Ekspan Ltd, the Open Door Theatre Company has a unique and rare opportunity to work as an artist does with a complete blank canvas (in this case a canvas of some 15,000 square feet). Whilst there are some obvious logistical challenges, nevertheless the available space removes many of the limitations of a conventional theatre venue. The world of 1984 is a hard place where the citizens work hard, for long hours with very little reward. Sheffield is a steel city with an underlying culture of hard work and endeavour.  In the hey day of the steel industry, Sheffield steel formed a backbone to the both the UK and the wider world economy in the increasing demands for producing things. Whilst the world has changed to more global based economies, Sheffield still stands as a beacon to achievement and innovation. This said, putting 1984 on as a play at a working factory venue right in the heart of Sheffield’s industrial heritage seems appropriate to the city and to the work itself.

Brightside Factory – Ekspan Ltd
Compass Works
410 Brightside Lane
S9 2SP





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