By Jordan Howard
For 70 years, George Orwell’s uneasily prescient novel 1984 has both unmoored readers from recognizable reality and helped them ruminate on the society they see. An influential, evocative work of fiction that’s timeless and timely, 1984 finds everyman Winston Smith unexpectedly challenging a world in which totalitarian government reigns supreme, technology is a weapon of propaganda and control, and Big Brother is always watching. We had the opportunity to interview Reece Richardson, who plays Winston Smith.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your previous theatre experience.
I grew up in a small rural village outside of York in North Yorkshire, England. I trained with the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain and then studied Acting at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.
Which character do you play in 1984?
I play Winston Smith.
How much did you know about 1984 before you joined this project?
I had encountered 1984 prior to my work with Aquila Theatre, through my education and it is such an iconic piece of literature that a lot of it’s most powerful phrases have made their way into regular speech. So I was familiar with its concepts, but it was really working on it in depth with Aquila, and revisiting the novel in 2019 that made me appreciate its relevance and immediacy in our current world.
There are so many different renditions of 1984. Where did you find your inspiration for your role in how to make it unique and your own?
I started by reading the novel again. Then the stage adaptation we are using provides another framework within which to present it in, but for me Orwells novel is so rich in inspiration for the character of Winston, I used that heavily and simply put myself in Winston’s shoes.
This story was very ahead of its time. Do you think Big Brother exists today? Do you think that with the social media age today this story predicted life in the 21st century?
I think that the element of Big Brother that exists most in relation to our modern timeline is the invasion of privacy. Personally I see the inclusion of technology in modern life a necessity and it most definitely can be a huge asset. In particular our shared knowledge globally that can fight diseases and further our understanding of complex challenges such as climate change etc. But for me the key message of this story is the danger of information being abused and used to annihilate individuality and creativity. I don’t necessarily think that Orwell predicted the rise of social media per se but I think that he saw our need to connect with each other and that tools like Social Media can be used for good or potentially evil, (Though of course as is pointed out in 1984 those terms can be flexible!).
Which character do you relate to the most in real life?
I would say Winston Smith and that is the power of the book. He is an every-person, that the reader is allowed to experience the alternative of 1984 reality through.
Imagine you have to convince someone who does not enjoy theatre to see the show- what would you say?
If you have a cell phone, or a TV, then this is a show that is relevant to you. It is also an immensely famous novel so there’s another reason! And I would say that at times it does feel like more of an in-depth TV documentary than a ‘traditional’ play.
What is unique about the Aquila Theatre version of the show?
I would say using the Party Members to re-enact scenes from the book to torment and confuse Winston. That and the use of live and projected footage subtly within the piece.
Describe the plot from start to finish in 5 words with no context.
Diary, Julia, O’Brien, Torture, Love.
What has been your favorite part of performing this show?
Playing the part of Winston. His journey is challenging, humbling and exhausting!
Aquila Theatre is presenting 1984 at Loeb Playhouse on October 16-17. Catch Reece Richardson and the rest of the cast!