In Haunt

By Emily Jackson

After-hours inside Manchester Central Library, members of the public were taken on a dramatic journey inspired by George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four – all part of the immersive theatre production '2084', spanning 22 November - 14 December last year. Directed by Joe Hufton, written by Adam Taub, along with a soundscape from Dom James and a live performance from Charlie Cooper, this was a unique experience (presented as part of the Library Live programme of events) specially-designed to suit the historic building and put the audience at the centre. New Haunt writer Emily Jackson went along, and provides an extensive retrospective account below…

2084

When I was asked to go see and write about 2084 for Haunt Manchester, I didn’t know what to expect. I had never read or seen any interpretation of the classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, so I was immediately nervous. I looked up the show on the Visit Manchester website I saw that it was described as ‘an immersive performance’ - and so not really knowing what was ahead - I decided to use that to my advantage when going in!

The show took place at Manchester Central Library after-hours, and the choice of setting could not have been more apt. From the moment the show began, my group was made to feel as though we were being inducted into ‘the Party.’ The staff remained in character before, during and after the end of the performance, utilising the complex layout of the library to the advantage of the story, leading the group from room to room as we completed various stages of the induction. The first stage was being taken to be ‘assessed'...

Our group was led upstairs to the Wolfson Reading Room and told to sit down before our test papers to wait for instructions. This was the most interactive part of the entire show, instantly reminding me of the feelings of uncertainty and nervousness when taking a high school exam! We were given two minutes for each of the three sections to complete the questions. Even now as I look back on this, I’m not entirely sure if the questions were completely random or by design, as it was later announced that there was a highest scoring candidate and their number tag was called out to the room. This was a great way to begin the show as the audience was immediately immersed in the world of 2084 and made to feel they had an equally important role to play in the story.

By Paul Husband

Perhaps one of the most striking things about this opening scene of the show was how the performers utilised the space of the reading room, as the acoustics helped to carry voices around the whole space loudly and confidently without the help of any microphone. This created a sense of the characters representing ‘the Party’ being so much more threatening and overwhelming, and succeeded in creating a foreboding atmosphere that permeated the room. These feelings were intensified when a rendition of ‘Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will be Will be)’ was performed, the lyrics rewritten to promote a propaganda filled national anthem for Oceania, ‘the Party’ and 2084.

It was from here that our group was taken downstairs into what was referred to as the ‘viewing room.’ We watched the romance of Winston and Julia unfold both through live action performance from the actors and a video recording in the form of surveillance, all the while aware that despite their resistance to 2084’s Big Brother they would ultimately be caught. There was an overwhelming sense of dread evoked as we saw the main storyline play out. Yet in terms of perspective, rather than being made to feel as though the audience were still players in the show, we were instead back in the role of watchers, and I couldn’t help feeling a little less invested. It was these scenes that required the audience to simply sit and watch that were perhaps less gripping, and I would have perhaps liked it more if the original source material and characters were taken as inspiration rather than being the main plot of the show, within this section. This was the least immersive period of 2084… though the audience was thrust into action once again towards the final minutes!

How so? During the penultimate scene, there was an instance of ‘torture’ depicted in the centre of the room as a member of ‘the Party’ interrogated Winston for being a thought-criminal. The audience were once again invited to take part, encouraging a member to step up and ‘execute’ him with a pistol. A fitting and chilling feature perhaps, as it once again allowed the audience to feel engaged, complicit even, with the outcome of the story. I found it was this, as well as the time spent in the ‘assessment centre’, that I found the most enjoyable, as it allowed the audience to become much more invested in the whole experience.

By Paul Husband

Overall, 2084 was a great revision of the original classic tale, infusing a more contemporary streak into the plot itself alongside updating some of the technology which was originally described in Orwell’s novel. I certainly felt the message from Nineteen-Eighty Four carried greater weight in this new adaptation as it could not have been more relevant to this modern age of surveillance and social media. While watching the romance of Winston and Julia onscreen I was reminded of how in this current era we are also constantly being ‘watched,’ as there always seems to be the screen of our phones or computers looming, a camera in the street or an Alexa device that is ‘listening’ for our voices. Knowing this, there was a great sense when leaving Central Library that the show could easily be taken out of doors, or across any location, and its story would still be relevant and enjoyable.

First image: by James Chadderton. Photographs 2 and 3: by Paul Husband

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2 Comments

Comments

  1. Dawn
    I found the article very informative and honest.I like the idea of the audience participation as it is much more exciting for the audience and makes it feel much more real.
  2. Egg Head
    Great write up. Makes me want to go to the show (although I can only go retrospectively through the write up by Emily Jackson). Makes me wonder who is watching and listening to me right now.

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