Crumbs, doilies, and 1984
London, United Kingdom
London, United Kingdom
Today we enjoyed a bit of a sleep-in, gathering at 10:00 for breakfast at one of the many many ‘Wetherspoon’ pubs, for a cold breakfast that arrived after everyone else. At least they had coffee.
After the last two full on days this one was a little more relaxed, I don’t think anyone had any plans to try and walk over 10 kms like we had in the past two days. Over to Covent Garden we all wandered, to check out the markets, shop and stalls. The installation of 100,000 balloons is an amazing sight, simple but so clever.
Our next mission was to visit famous cake shop ‘Crumbs and Doilies’ – so we all piled on tot he tube at Leicester Square – I nearly had my arms chopped off by the closing doors but survived unscathed for our short journey.
Upon finding the cake shop (1 Kingley St is different to 1 Kingley Court, though the GPS would have you believe otherwise), I enjoyed an excellent ‘Mojito’ cupcake. Noice!
Lunch was back at ‘The Spice of Life’ pub where had dinner just after we arrived, and once again it was good tasty food.
We all went and checked out the nearby ‘Hippodrome’ casino – quite different to what you’d expect in an Australian casino as there were lots of roulette tables and not that many poker machines. But since Australia has 10% of the worlds poker machines (Which is a kind of horrifying thought) maybe it’s not such a surprise. The Casino itself was in a converted cinema or theatre – I guess that’s better than just knocking the place down. There a ton of historical info here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippodrome,_London
Then it was time for a nanna-nap… yes all this holidaying can be hard work… and we needed all our energy to travel a whole 2 tube stations down to Embankment, to the Playhouse Theatre, to see a production of 1984.
Now I’m no theatre critic, I’m finding it hard to describe what I saw. All I can keep thinking is “Holy crap that was so intense!”. It started off somewhat confusingly… I spent at least a good half hour or more trying to work out what is going on, unsure if the production was too clever to me, or too clever for its own good. It was hard to follow – but I guess all the disorientation, the repetition of scenes and not being sure what was present, past or future – was their way of showing how the character of Winston felt, or at least was meant to feel. Even if the story wasn’t making a lick of sense, the lead actor was doing an absolutely brilliant job of a nervous and paranoid Winston, like a cornered rat (ok maybe not the best choice of animal).
It was very cleverly staged – the scenes where Winston thought he was finally on his own, finally away from big brother, and finally not being watched … were all actually played off stage, but relayed to massive screen above stage via a video camera. For all we know they could’ve just play the same video every night, but no, it was all done live… at least I’m pretty sure it was.
One extremely bit of effective metaphor is when he is found out and betrayed … the front part of the set is lifted away, exposing the ‘private’ room and showing the video camera that is projecting the image above the stage… as Winston’s life falls apart, so does the entire stage set. Piece by piece every bit is dismantled by gas-masked troops, destroyed bit by bit as Winston realises his life has been similarly destroyed, until there is nothing left but a completely bare stage and nothing but expanse of grey and a deflated Winston. It was all played against a background of extremely loud noises, gunfire, helicopters, electronic buzzing… designed to shock, and shock it did. However that was nothing compared with what was to come.
Room 101 was suitably horrifying. The set was just plain white curtains on three sides, but the real menace was in the nameless faceless torturers and the calmly menacing O’Brien. As the torture commences, O’Brien simply says “The fingertips”… the stage goes completely black, and the lights come up to a screaming Winston whose fingers are dripping with (fake of course) blood. His discussion with O’Brien continues a little longer and we’re wondering what horrible thing is going to happen next. All goes silent, there’s a pause. We’re all holding our breath.
The entire theatre gasped, myself included. This was visceral, intense stuff. Quite literally knuckle-biting, I looked around and saw pretty much every fellow audience member biting their knuckles as well. It was brutally uncomfortable to watch when the stage lights came up to a Winston with so much blood (and teeth) being spat – but I guess it shows the power of theatre, it was completely gripping, challenging, horrible… but definitely effective.
Surprisingly the ending isn’t quite as bleak as usual – by including the novel’s Appendix as part of the script, and I think it all hinges on a single word, where a footnote states that newspeak ‘was’ the language of the Party. We find out at the end that the cast we met at the start is mostly a kind of ‘book club’ picking over Winston’s diary, showing that the years of The Party are actually behind us – nobody uses Doublespeak anymore, but of course due to all the ‘unpersons’ and the destruction of history by the Ministry of Truth, they don’t really have a clear idea of what really happened. Indeed, they all agreed that Winston himself was just a figment of imagination and his diary was written by a number of collaborative authors trying to express an idea. So its still a pretty bleak ending that indicates what happens to those who haven’t learnt from history.
Of course in this day and age it draws a lot of parallels to contemporary culture – but I think that’s something 1984 has always done. It had me thinking of North Korea where everything is always wonderful, and closer to home, of Nauru where bad things never happen because it is illegal to talk about it. As per 1984, once you control the language, you can’t even have thoughts against the regime as you won’t have the language any more to express it.
The finally curtain call was a kind of release… a good way to realise that this bunch of people holding hands, smiling and taking a bow, are just actors, it didn’t really happen, it is just a work of fiction, and Winston still has all his teeth. It was a welcome way to break the spell.
So in short, a confronting experience, it’s hard to say ‘enjoyable’, but I can see why all the proper reviewers have been raving about it, and I’m glad we got the chance to see it, just one day before closing night.
A quick tube ride back to Leicester Square and then we were back at the hotel – we popped out to a nearby Spanish restaurant for some tasty tapas, and that was the end of that day. Only 9.5km today, it was an easy one! Not sure what’s on the agenda tomorrow, but guess you’ll hear about it in about 24 hours. Goodnight!