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Orwell’s ‘1984’ always watching, totalitarian society still relevant

Reece Richardson, center, plays Winston Smith in “1984”, presented by Aquila Theatre. Courtesy of Richard Termine

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Reece Richardson is enjoying his time traveling the United States while on tour with Aquila Theatre.

It’s quite different from his native England.

“This is on my bucket list,” he says. “Travel the States by bus. The next time, I’ll have to drive a motorcycle from coast to coast.”

All kidding aside, Richardson is able to dig his teeth into his role of Winston Smith in an adaptation of George Orwell’s “1984.” The traveling production makes a stop at Popejoy Hall at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 1.

Written in 1944 near the end of World War II, Orwell’s “1984” depicts a society controlled by a totalitarian government bent on repressing all subversive tendencies.

“Big Brother” is always watching and technology is wielded as a weapon to inundate citizens with propaganda and to monitor thoughts and actions.

Imagined before the existence of computers, this dystopian future explores the power of technology as a mental manipulator and source of curated information.

Richardson says the resurgence of “1984” marks a widespread desire to understand the present moment by looking back.

“It’s really fascinating from start to finish,” Richardson said. “There are a few productions that resonate from the time they are written to the modern day that have an immediacy.

“This one baffled me. It was written in 1944 and Orwell predicted the rise of technology. The foresight that he had. It’s pretty astonishing to be onstage, and the words are so relevant.”

Richardson describes Winston Smith as an everyman who is relatable to an audience.

“He’s deeply passionate and pathetic, that’s the main reason he ends up in Room 101,” he says. “Because of his love for language and emotion, as well as being an individual, he’s seen as dangerous to the state because he’s bursting with humanity. He is seen as a rebel, and he has his faults. In this totalitarian state, he’s the enemy.”

Richardson says the adaptation by Michael Gene Sullivan celebrates the complexity of the individual.

“In that world, Big Brother is beating down people exactly the same,” he says. “Winston is saying there is duty and strength. For me, finding the light and share of Winston’s journey in such a dark world is a tremendous thing. There is obviously pain and suffering, and I wanted to encapsulate that. I wanted there to be hope and by finding those moments, that’s where the writing truly shines.”

Richardson wanted to work with Aquila Theatre after learning of the company six years ago.

“Because I work with classical text, it grabbed my attention,” he says. “When I went to drama school, I wanted to see the States, and it’s been a real privilege to see this beautiful country. This will be my first time in New Mexico, and I can’t wait to see pieces of the Wild West. Of course, there’s also the ‘Breaking Bad’ locations.”

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