Buying diapers? The Cloud knows you have a baby. Checking your Facebook again? It may see patterns of insecurity. Streaming that “adult” video?
Over 50 years ago, George Orwell put forth his vision of a possible future in which an omnipresent presence called Big Brother knew everything about us, even when we tried to hide our thoughts and feelings. While his view may not have completely come to pass by the titular date, it is hard to argue against the idea that BB is here now and is growing stronger every second.
In an effort to explore and expose these darker truths of modern society, the American Repertory Theatre is bringing a new production of the prying and provocative play of Orwell’s “1984” by the award-winning team of Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan of London’s famed Headlong Theatre to the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge.
Perhaps ironically, the play will premiere on February 14, a day when many people expose themselves, at least romantically. In any case, it is sure to open minds and perhaps close hearts.
Leading the duplicitous drama is stage and screen star Tim Dutton. Born in Stratford-Upon-Avon (the birthplace of another well-known British thespian), Dutton admits that the power of the Bard was strong in his hometown but explains that he did not come to theatre right away.
“I guess I sort of started out as a musician when I was a kid,” Dutton recalls, noting that he played flute, clarinet and saxophone as a boy. However, when he was advised to join the school play at the age of 12, Dutton says that he found the new medium “much more satisfying” than music.
“I was bitten by the bug a bit,” he suggests, noting how, growing up in Stratford, he has the “privilege of seeing vintage years of the Royal Shakespeare Company and that was a big influence too.”
At university, Dutton was on track to become a lawyer. However, when the “bug” bit again, he joined the Drama Society and eventually ended up going to drama school. “That was my first official audition,” he explains, noting that he ended up working with famed director Sam Mendes. “A friend had suggested I have a go at drama school. At the time, I did not think it was an option, but I loved it and wanted to make a career out of it.”
Though he may be well known to area audiences for his role on the popular Boston-based legal drama “Ally McBeal,” Dutton admits that, as the show was filmed in LA, he is not all that familiar with Boston and is looking forward to exploring the city while performing across the river. He may not be familiar with Boston, but will certainly bring a darker tone this time around.
“My only experience of Boston was from a soundstage,” he says, “so it will be fun to see what all those buildings really are.”
No matter where he performs the Headlong production of “1984,” Dutton says that he is “intensely proud” of the show and always looks forward to bringing it to new audiences. “The reactions have been positive and exciting,” he maintains, “and it has been a thrill to be part of that!”
Dutton had long wished to work with Headlong, so when he hard of this production, he was keen to become involved. “I loved the adaptation and so I went for an audition,” he recalls. “We all clicked in the room and I was very happy to be on board.”
While the directorial team is well established, Dutton said that the production was made even more engaging for the performers by their encouraging them to contribute to the play. “We all helped devise and extend the story,” he says, “and it is still changing daily in a very organic way.”
As an agent of the Ministry of Truth, O’Brien is charged with doing whatever it takes to get at whatever “truth” is considered to mean so that “reality” can be similarly determined.
“Everything is in the book,” Dutton suggests, praising Orwell for the complexities and dualities that make the character and the story so provocative and engaging. “I did not have to look outside it for inspiration. He is an amazing character and is impossible to pin down, like so many of the characters.”
As Orwell’s characters and stories are so complex, they continue to puzzle and provoke generations of performers and audiences. “One of the lines from the book is that every generation sees themselves reflected in it,” Dutton says. “We have had audience members in their 90s and in their teens, and all of them have something very interesting to say about it.”
As the surveillance state continues to grow, the story continues to gain even more meaning and weight. “When I grew up, it was hard to find a telephone number,” Dutton recalls, noting how, these days, many people spend their days updating the world on their most mundane activities and “likes.” “Now, I can find pretty much anything I want. So things have certainly changed. We’ll just have to see if it was for the better or the worse.”
– Matt Robinson
Tickets: $25 and up.
64 Brattle St., Cambridge, 617-547-8300 www.americanrepertorytheater.org