Mrs Orwell at the Old Red Lion Theatre
The author who gave the world such literary classics as Animal Farm and 1984 is now being brought to life on the stage, at the Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington. Tony Cox’s new biographical and thought-provoking play, Mrs Orwell, delves deep into the emotional struggles of the great writer and those dear to him during his battle with illness, and also reveals the relationships behind the curtains, with an exploration into political ideologies and the imbalances of the social system that will provoke more than a few afterthoughts.
The year is 1949. George Orwell’s barnstormer 1984 has been released, but all is not well for the author. Orwell (Peter Hamilton Dyer) is entering the final days of his life as he continues to struggle with a severe case of Tuberculosis and is being treated at University College Hospital in London. In a desperate search for satisfaction and hope, George proposes to his friend Sonia Brownell (Cressida Bonas), who after much deliberation (and a few subtle hints from associates), accepts his offer. This moment, is to be a turning point in Sonia’s life, as a world of judgement and temptation enters her platonic marriage with one of the world’s most renowned writers.
The script itself is quaintly written, suitably matching the setting and its context. The cast, a mere five members, all carry the language and plot with ease and complement each other in their abilities. Cressida Bonas is challenged with the task of embodying an emotionally lost Sonia Brownell – “AKA Mrs Orwell” – who is faced with a dilemma in every step of her love life. Bonas is reaching her stride on the stage, and her performance as the intelligent and seductive “It Girl” certainly won’t leave a mark on her record. Peter Hamilton Dyer is exemplary as the bedridden Orwell, capturing the writer’s personal traits and mental obsessions brilliantly, and when conversing with Edmund Digby Jones’s Lucian Freud, leaves the audience in suspense and awe.
The set is beautifully simple, with the action taking place within the walls of Orwell’s hospital room. Although confined, the cast utilise the stage with ultimate serenity, and the intimacy benefits the production rather than subtracts from the visual elements. The lack of space does, however, make scenes change slightly disjointed, but this should be put more down to the practicalities of the stage than the play itself. Tony Cox can be very proud of his latest piece and of Proud Haddock’s latest production. Mrs Orwell certainly has the potential for success, with very real philosophical messages behind the literature, and this will not be the last we hear of the play.
Photo: Samuel Taylor
Mrs Orwell is at the Old Red Lion Theatre from 1st until the 26th August 2017. For further information or to book visit here.