REVIEW: A student's view of 1984, the latest Duchess's High School production

Matthew Potts as Winston Smith. Picture by Jane Coltman
Matthew Potts as Winston Smith. Picture by Jane Coltman

Well, that was something. I must admit, after my first viewing of the play, my mind was in somewhat of a strange state. I will elaborate.

The first act to me, while all well acted and the like, felt too long and ever so slightly tiresome, whereas the second act suddenly ramped it up in a mixture of some humour and proper action.

While the second half was vastly superior as a whole compared to the first half, this sudden change in tone added to the first act feeling even more of a simple story build-up.

That being said, the first half was nowhere near bad, and I particularly liked the opening, establishing the dystopia we find our characters in and Big Brother as the all-seeing eye, alongside morning hate exercises and victory coffee.

After my second viewing of the play, I actually felt the opposite, and felt as if the first half flew along very nicely and my eagerness for the events of the second half perhaps made my waiting for it feel slower - although I still preferred the second half all the same.

The set this year was hugely different from the bright colours we have witnessed in other Duchess spectacles such as A Midsummer Night's Dream, but it fit the feel of the play very well, and I liked the use of the TV screens.

Particularly interesting also was the literal face of Big Brother everywhere, and the barbed wire fences, all adding to the sense of entrapment and the constant feeling of being watched. On the whole, the set was perfect as to what was needed. Lighting also went very well, my favourite moment in that department was when characters such as Winston Smith (Matthew Potts) and O'Brien (Sophia Murray) were positioned directly in front of a small stage light, their shadows dominating the stage.

Mentioning some characters, I'll get into the acting side of things. Starting off with Matthew Potts, he was brilliant, particularly in the second half. His transition from a regular person to a worried but excited criminal, to insane and then all the way back to normal again was fantastic, and I thought he was great.

Comrade Parsons (Ella Paul) was great also, and the subtle madness displayed in her character before it was unleashed later in the play showed a great acting ability. Comrade Syme (Ethan Allan) was also well acted, and I liked the mix of a serious but worried personality, and Ethan did this very well.

Julia (Megan Brown) was great too, and I liked the expression in her trying to figure out these new laws and language such as an 'unperson'. The scene between her and Matthew in which they both have conflicting wants was humorous and well done. I really liked Sophia Murray as O'Brien, and the laughing and taunting was perfect, especially since I always am favourable towards a well portrayed villain. She did it very well and I thought her performance as great.

The Big Brother loudspeaker (Courtney Swain) was a clever idea for a character and I thought she did the whole 'announcer' voice and persona very well. The landlady character, played by Daisy Hope, was played very well too. My only downside on characters was that the landlady seemed continuously out of place, which I suppose is the design for the character but part of it felt weird.

My main downside of the play was the blue outs. Instead of the standard black outs I have seen before, the Duchess did something different and opted for the blue over black. While I'm told by a member of the crew this was necessary as otherwise the backstage crew wouldn't have been able to see at all, it took away from the feeling of scenes. One example would be a character gone insane, screaming at the top of their voice as the lights faded and it went to the blue out, only for them to get up and casually walk away. This really made some scenes lose the feel they were going for, with the excellent acting just being cut short when you see them leave and new objects are around. I do understand that people needed to see to place props, I just wish it could have been done differently.

To say this was a great play would be an understatement, but it wasn't my favourite of the Duchess performances I have seen, though neither was it my least favourite. And while I know that sounds spiteful, if anyone has the knowledge of how brilliant Duchess plays are, then saying this is my least favourite doesn't mean it's bad as this was far from it

I liked how it was thought-provoking, I thought the acting was some of the best seen, but there was something about it that felt off. It was great, but perhaps it was the alternating speed and feel of the acts or the blue outs. But on the whole, another brilliant Duchess play.