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Big Brother is Watching

June 2003 StageLightand Magic Inc. Staged "Big Brother is watching" at the Lionel Wendt

Imagine a world where you cannot think what you like. Where you cannot speak what you like. Where your every move is watched. Where there is no freedom of choice. Where every fundamental, basic human right is denied. Now imagine everyone around you behaving as if this abnormal situation was the norm. What can you do? Where can you turn for help? Whom can you trust? Can you even trust yourself?

When Big Brother speaks, everyone listens. When he orders, everyone obeys. Winston Smith, a worker in a Ministry of Truth, has being growing disillusioned with the Big Brother System – a system he can no longer justify, let alone follow. Though it has been stirring within him for some time, he cannot let it dwell on his mind, lest it should show on his face, and make him guilty of thoughtcrime and facecrime – popular categories of crime in the new regime.

The story focuses on Smith, and takes him through the trauma of his emotions as he is faced with love – a forbidden emotion, the dilemma of marriage – a forbidden institution, and choose – a forbidden option. Once he breaks through the first barrier, he plunges into his hatred of the regime with full force, too confident of his strengths to realize that the system may have ways of forcing him in to conformity.

The play brings to light some disturbing realities of modern life and power tactics. People working next to you suddenly vanish, and all traces of them are removed to such an extent that you begin to doubt whether they ever existed at all. Can we ever begin to understand how a person can become an “unperson”, and even if we did, could we ever condone it? We start off by believing that War can never mean Peace, in the same way that freedom is the opposite of slavery. However, the twisted logic of those in power, translated with forceful propaganda that they drill into the masses, does exactly that. It brings us to the point that we might accept that war is really another word for peace, that ignorance is strength, and that most of the people living under the regime are not really alive after all.

There is a certain heroism in each individual, fuelled perhaps by the fact that most stories and films of the day end with the good guys defeating the bad guys.

We take pride in the fact that some of us would never betray our ideals, even in the face of the worst torture that we could undergo. However, sometimes, it is not our heroism that makes it possible for us to be true to our ideals, but the fact that the torturer has not discovered the exact form of torture that we would respond to. What do we fear the most? It varies with each individual – for someone, it is heights, for others, it is fire, while spiders, rats, closed spaces all work to a different extent, depending on the person’s prior experience. Big Brother is so efficient, so thorough in his knowledge of the individual, that he knows exactly what form of torture will work, and he doesn’t even have to actually USE it to get results. The story of Big Brother is not an Orwellian dig at the failed experiment of communist. We are too jaded for that. It, however, assumes great significance to us in the light of the recent developments in the world, culminating in the war of Iraq, how easy it is to control the minds of the people, when you can control the media which feeds them information. How easy it is to get everyone to approve your actions, when you control the forum in which approval is sought.

These are some ideas that have been circulated in the last few months, though it has never openly been discussed.

Is it our own fear of “crimespeak” that keeps us quiet? Or is it the fact that we realize that when the system is too strong, and we’re too weak, it is better to keep silent.

“StageLight&Magic Inc.’s production of ‘Big Brother is Watching’ goes on the boards of the Lionel Wendt theatre from June 6-8 2003. ‘Big Brother is Watching’ is a play based on the book ‘1984’ by George Orwell, and directed by Feroze Kamardeen.

The production stars Marsh Dodanwela, Kisholi de Mel, Chamat Arambewela, Neluka Silva, Wonda Godlieb, Nishani Jayamaha, Kisholi Mendis, Arjuna Koralagama Dininda Paranahewa & Sirraj Abdul Hameed.