George Orwell’s classic novel ‘1984’ has an enduring appeal simply because it is a superbly written piece of work. Of course there are probably thousands of books that have that quality, but they can’t also lay claim to having shaped our thinking and prophesied our future in quite the same way. A full 68 years after it was written, 1984 is still relevant today and audiences at the Playhouse Theatre in London are being enthralled by its dark, dystopian vision once again during its current run in the West End.
In a fictional area of a post-war netherworld, Orwell envisaged mass surveillance, endless wars, mind control through fear and propaganda, the criminalising of free thought and the faint hope that ‘the people’ will shake off a herd mentality to fight for a way out.
Today’s media and society in general may not like to admit how close to Orwell’s vision we currently reside, but the parallels are inescapable. ‘Big Brother’ is not only a global TV franchise, but accurately reflects the CCTV world we perhaps aren’t even aware we live in. The ‘Thought Police’ channel our social and political thinking via the media and through the marketing of technology, while we put our ‘thoughts’ on social media and people judge us for it.
In many countries a totalitarian state acts as the ruling class and exercises almost total control over its population, while citizens suffer wars they struggle to flee. The Data Protection Act is in place to safeguard our individuality, but security hacks and identity fraud have us living in fear while the news informs us of imprisonment, torture and hostage situations almost every day.
Orwell wrote about ‘Hate Week’ like a rally to unite a group of people with the sole aim of striking up fear and a frenzy of hatred. And you consider this against the campaigns in the EU referendum vote and the US presidential election and conclude there are alarming similarities. Orwell also wrote about ‘speak write’; a voice-recognition technology that is finally, in 2016, becoming widespread across the globe.
People called this an ‘Orwellian Vision’ in 1949 when the book was released, and they still call it that today, because it’s soothsaying forewarning is as eerie as the unearthly world that Orwell could see we were heading towards.
1984 runs until 29th October at the Playhouse Theatre. To buy tickets, visit www.boxoffice.co.uk