Photo by Ana Sánchez
Of all the harrowing literary visions of the future, no one pegged a date like George Orwell, who hijacked 1984 and used it to set the scene for a frighteningly plausible portrayal of humanity plodding towards its own doom.
To rebut those who claim the book is past its sell-by-date, Hollywood actor and director Tim Robbins and his maverick theatre troupe The Actors’ Gang have brought Michael Gene Sullivan’s theatre adaptation of the novel to Barcelona, scratching 1984 back on the calendar.
Robbins believes that we’re tossing away our freedom like confetti, and he has a point. Sixty years after Orwell published his definitive warning, we’ve been bombarded with the paradoxes and euphemisms the British author coined: war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength. Politicians, institutions and industries—media, financial and pharmaceutical—get away with ludicrous, devastating policies, while we worry if our pants match our iPhones.
Using the ‘security’ cameras omnipresent in Barcelona as a case in point, Robbins reminds us that what lurks in our own Room 101 isn’t real. A pervasive pessimism consumes us; our society is addicted to fear. We irrationally allow cameras onto our streets and into our lobbies, as if this will confound criminals rather than urging them, and the cameras, into our homes.
While the movie industry flounders economically—“I’d rather be here while Hollywood burns!”—Robbins has been getting back to his roots, bringing provocative political theatre to the people. But it also takes the phenomenal enthusiasm of a true tinseltowny to inspire rather than repel with so brutal a play. Presented as a series of flashbacks during an excruciating drawn-out torture scene, Sullivan’s 1984 alludes to ‘anti-terror’ atrocities and complicities, committed by the West during the Iraq war.
A persistent belief in humanity holds it all together. “If you don’t agree with a law, don’t follow it!” urges Robbins, who believes that personal liberty should be actively claimed. Robbins’s own battle for freedom is paramount: “I don’t want to make pastiche; all-singing, dancing musicals, I want to make active, hard-hitting theatre. If I’m preaching to the choir, I want that choir to sing in harmony.”