As part of their online initiative, The Big Share, the theatre group Mrs C’s Collective have put together five readings of new work using thirty-six creatives, and I joined in with Julian Felice’s exploration of a tolitarian police state, #TheRevolutionOfTheWord.
We are many years in the future. Rather like 1984, where George Orwell surmised a time where leisure activities were restricted and government propaganda paramount, so it is for Ben, who works as a literary translator, turning banned books from the past into bitesize tweets.
Presented on Zoom, with several cast members reading more than one part, this play seems very relevant to an era of “fake news”, media propaganda, and an increasingly hostile atmosphere from those who hold positions of power.
A play about freedoms curtailed, whether physical, literary, or expressive, has additional resonance during a pandemic, where increased isolation leads to an enhanced dependency on digital communication. In Felice’s world, social media can only be consumed as state approved times and the use of Facebook relationship status is as crucial to survival as an identity card.
Ben was taken from his parents when they were arrested for retaining books in their house and reading them. Slowly he discovers the power of words, especially those by Shakespeare, and sets himself up as “the Bard”, who preaches through long-dead speeches from Julius Caesar and Hamlet.
Like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, another politically astute view of potential future lives, Felice’s play emphasises happiness being equivalent to efficiency, where a populace being instructed in each facet of their daily lives is too apathetic to rise up against injustice. It also implies that affectionate relationships have declined into purely a means for physical fertilisation.
It is a fascinating piece – although perhaps it does not go far enough to obliterate personal freedom. Yes, people disappear with their digital footprints deactivated, and life goes on, but why stop there? I also felt that returning back to Ben’s parents weakened his own narrative at times.
Well-acted across the board, I was particularly interested in the work of Matthew John Wright (who as a bearded Ben seemed to be rebelling against a clean-shaven norm from the start), Raphael von Blumenthal (as the compliant Chris, a realist under the boot of a regime he doesn’t question), and Mountview student Sabrina Capes (in a dual role as Ben’s mother and as the mysterious Juliet).
Directed by Beth Wilson (currently training at LAMDA), #TheRevolutionOfTheWord manages to pack quite a punch, with characters from all sides of the argument – from the mysterious “Apollo” (he doesn’t officially exist, and neither does “the Revolution”) to Ben’s unofficial girlfriend Amy (who only speaks and thinks in state-approved terms).
It has an extremely powerful ending, too, which will send chills through anyone who wonders where excessive control of personal and professional freedom can lead us.
#TheRevolutionOfTheWord was free to view.