The voice is a powerful tool. At its loudest, it can rouse and rally; in silence, it still speaks. In writing, it records the past, informs the present, and speaks to the future. In Orwell’s Voice, Callum Berridge explores the power of that writer’s voice and his own. Performative and enduring, I have never seen anything like this on stage.
Despite being one of the most prolific narratives voices in literature, we will never hear George Orwell’s actual voice. Sat at a table with two microphones, Berridge recounts extracts from Orwell’s diaries into one mic. The other mic provides his own present narration of this past narrative. Combining live and recorded audio, Berridge explores how and why Orwell’s voice still speaks to us, a modern audience.
Part of the site-sensitive festival Basic Space, this show could feasibly work elsewhere. However, there is a certain affinity between the space and the subject. As Orwell tells us how he is in hiding, you feel as if you are here with him: hidden away in boarded up safe house, cut off from the world. It’s an intimate affair, between actor and audience, transmitter and receiver.
Writer and actor, Berridge’s delivery helps to create this world of secrecy. Reading from pages of notes may not seem the most engaging way to spend an hour, but Berridge has the audience hanging on his every word. Speaking in barely a whisper, he is able to evoke a sense of tension and drama with a gentle tone. Laughs erupt, heads shake and silence falls. At points, the delivery is almost monotone; this is not a criticism though, as it which makes his outburst at the end all the more effective in which he finds his own voice. The ending is the most theatrical element in this piece, although it is probably my least favourite part of proceedings, a tad drawn out. This, if anything, proves just how powerful the spoken word and voice can be.
Playing with traditional forms of storytelling and narrative, Orwell’s Voice has the potential to work across a number of mediums. I could easily see this as an audio play. But in its current form, it’s pure magic: a multi-layered, meta masterpiece.