The Hippodrome Brings George Orwell’s 1984 to Life
War is peace. Ignorance is strength. Freedom is slavery. The recognizable propaganda of George Orwell’s fictional world of 1984 flash across the screens above the stage. Audience members spanning across many decades file in to the rows of the Hippodrome Theatre in Downtown Gainesville. Sitting before us, an industrial set, intimately lit with eerie hues of green — creating a chilling feeling that matches the crisp air conditioning.
The Hippodrome Theatre and the University of Florida School of Theatre and Dance came together to share of one of Orwell’s classic novels, 1984, with Gainesville. Lauren Warhol Caldwell was the Artistic Director behind this production of Andrew White’s adaptation of the play. 1984 tells the story of a future world marked by total government control. Technology is inescapable, free-thinking is a crime and Big Brother is watching. The protagonists, Winston and Julia, dissatisfied
with the lives they are forced to live. But, deviating from the norm is a death sentence.
This just goes to show the timelessness of this piece as mankind never stops imagining what the landscape of the future will look like.
What captivates people about this story is that George Orwell published his ideas of the future in 1949. Although his novel seems like an exaggerated tale of fiction, there are horrifying elements that have made their way in to the modern world.
Generations of students, including myself, have read 1984 for various classes. At the show, a group of women around 50 years my senior reflected on when they were first exposed to this book in high school. This just goes to show the timelessness of this piece as mankind never stops imagining what the landscape of the future will look like.
Lauren Warhol Caldwell, the Artistic Director at the Hippodrome, called Orwell a visionary because we are now “living in the world that he described.” She continued in saying that “We are living in an interesting time right now and I think that’s probably one reason that the book resurged.”
The overwhelming interest in this story can be partially attributed to the time of political unrest that we are living in. Although the plot of Orwell’s novel could take a sharp political slant, the director chose to depict the work with its original authenticity. This allows for the audience to interpret the play in the way that most strongly resonates with them as an individual.
Regarding the play itself, the best word I can use to describe it is powerful. The audience is close enough to the action to feel like a participant rather than a mere spectator. There is something so gripping about seeing a fictional world that doesn’t seem possible, but then picking out an element that is present in our day-to- day lives. It’s riveting to see the dangerous possibilities of the uncertain future.
The purpose of this play is to not make you feel good inside as you are leaving the theatre. This play is supposed to make you think. You watch the protagonist completely unravel and abandon his morality. Reading about the downfall of Winston is one thing, but I have a new understanding of the plot after seeing 1984 on stage.
Audience members are kept in suspense and on edge for the duration of the show. Transitions from scene to scene were marked by metallic scraping and jolting bass, causing you to fear what will come next. To me, the most memorable part of the play was the interaction between Winston, played by Niall McGinty, and O’Brien, played by V Craig Heidenreich. The intensity in their portrayal of their characters allowed for the most extreme themes of the play to unfold before the audience’s eyes.
Caldwell said that, “If you’re looking to be riveted to the edge of your seat, that is the experience we have had with our audience.” I can personally support her claim, as I was fully captured by the performance from start to finish. I’ve been a fan of Orwell’s work for a while, but a whole new level of comprehension comes with seeing the story live.
You can catch this dark classic gracing the stage of the Hippodrome Theatre until September 24. Show times and ticket information can be found on the Hippodrome’s website.