There’s Always Hope
Back Alley Productions: 1984
By Hope Holloway
“Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present, controls the past.”
George Orwell, 1984
If you can alter the history books–and any and all other documents– then you can manage what people believe, know, think and do. This is the operating premise behind “Big Brother” government in both the book 1984 by George Orwell, and the play version put on recently by Back Alley Productions in Lafayette, Georgia. Orwell’s book, published in 1949, took a hard look at a possible future. The play form is chilling, knowing that the date of Orwell’s future is now in the past, and that some of his predictions have come true.
More on the meat of the story in a bit, but let’s first take a look at the production itself. We at The Marion County Messenger were already big fans of Back Alley Productions and Mars Theatre, and we were quite excited when we heard that they were bringing this piece of classic literature to life. In order to stay safe, but to also bring back some form of the live theatre experience, Back Alley Productions put on this play live with four different dates of production, but instead of an in-house audience (which would endanger those theatre goers during this pandemic) the group sold tickets online, and the viewer was allowed to see a live production from the comfort of home.
This is Back Alley’s first live performance on stage since shutting down. Director Gavin Russell had been working on this production prior to the pandemic pausing the theatre’s season. In fact, their season was shut down the day before Russell’s play was slated to open. However, a great troupe is one who adjusts to new circumstances and learns from the experience–and this is exactly what Back Alley has done! They’ve honed new skills and learned how to bring quality live performances online. Back Alley Productions was ecstatic that they found a way for Russell to finally bring his vision for this play to life! Prior to the play’s opening, Executive Producer Kaylee Smith was quoted as saying “Replacing the magic of live theatre is impossible, but to bring this show to fruition, even on a digital platform, feels like a positive step forward for our company, our cast and crew, and for the local arts as a whole. We hope you join us online!”.
So join them, I did! I was delighted to watch this play cast on my smart t.v., this past Saturday night. The cast members really brought this heart-breaking story to life. It’s a difficult, heavy subject matter and these actors portrayed these scenes with accuracy and poignancy. Russell describes the dark theme well when he says “Though 1984 is set 36 years ago in an alternate timeline of our own world, many of the themes presented share a shocking resemblance to our modern world.”. The director went on to add that “when Orwell conceived of mass surveillance, he had no idea how much further we would go in just a few short decades. Our modern context has radically changed the urgency of 1984.”
These actors had the unique viewpoint of getting to delve into this classic while both seeing Orwell’s vision of a possible future in his piece, and knowing how our current society exists. I was impressed with how deep these actors dove into the feeling of the piece. I believed they were living in a time where free speech had been banished and they were being ruled by a surveying, all knowing “Big Brother” government. I felt for them, and found myself struggling with them.
Zachary Randall played the character Winston so well that I wanted to find a way to save him. In the end, I wanted to cry out in his defense. Earlier in the play, Julia states, “‘If they could make me stop loving you–that would be the real betrayal. They can’t do that….They can make you say anything–anything–but they can’t make you believe it. They can’t get inside of you.”. This reassured Winston at that time, but I knew what was coming and I wanted to scream “but they can! They can!”. In the end, knowing that this regime’s power to change not just what you do, but how you feel deep down inside….it’s powerful and frightening as hell, and these amazing thespians excellently portrayed this feeling. As the last scene played out and I turned off my television, I was left contemplative and feeling quite tattered. When entertainment leads you to think and to feel this deeply, it is indeed a success!
Well done, Gavin Russell and Back Alley Productions! Very well done. We can’t wait to see what you do next!
I’m including the cast list here, because they all did an outstanding job, and I’d like you all to know their names:
Director – Gavin Russell
Stage Manager – Krystale Dawson
Telescreen Operator – Danita Fansler
Camera Operator – Ali Smith
Big Brother Artist – Gage Hutchings
Winston – Zachary Randall
Julia – Sam Lapp
O’Brien/Goldstien – J. Dillon Hartley
Syme – Dana Cole
Parsons – Sarah Lee
The Landlady- Sandy Whetmore
Guard 1/Big Brother Voice – Art Sanner
Guard 2/Martin- Cullen Ryan
Messenger, Gladys, and Coffee Vendor – Mia Fansler
That’s all for now, folks, and until next time, remember: There’s Always Hope!!!!