1984, George Orwell’s classic cautionary tale, comes to life on stage in Dubai

The books's themes are arguably more relevant now than ever, says Osman Aboubakr, the play's director.

Osman Aboubakr, left, director of a new stage production of Orwell’s 1984. Antonie Robertson / The National
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George Orwell's novel 1984, the author's oft-quoted cautionary tale about intrusive state control and the deterioration of personal privacy, has become a part of popular culture since its publication in 1949.

It is frequently referenced in other works of fiction, provided the title of the voyeuristic reality-TV show Big Brother – and even inspired Apple's famous TV commercial, first broadcast in the United States during the Super Bowl, that introduced the world to the Macintosh computer.

Dubai theatre company Backstage brings Orwell’s classic to life with an adaptation by playwrights Robert Owens, Wilton E Hall Jr and William A Miles Jr, which will run at The Junction in Al Serkal Avenue from tonight until Saturday.

The book’s themes – which are arguably more relevant now that ever – drew Canadian director Osman Aboubakr, who lives in Dubai, to take on the challenge of staging the two-hour production with a 12-strong cast.

“I prefer stories that deal with issues that we face in our times, as opposed to the more historical celebrated plays,” he says. “Some of them are set in times too far away for us to really care.”

Part of the local theatre scene since 2014, when he joined Backstage as an actor, Aboubakr previously directed two 10-minute plays for the Short+Sweet theatre festival this year and last. 1984 marks his full-length directorial production debut.

It is set in Airstrip One (formerly Great Britain), part of the totalitarian superstate of Oceania, which is ruled with an iron fist by the ever-vigilant Big Brother, an omnipresent leader who has history rewritten to suit his agenda and constantly monitors and controls the population, brutally cracking down on those who dare to even consider the idea of political freedom. One such citizen is Winston Smith, who has grown to loathe the oppressive regime and falls in love with kindred spirit Julia – with terrible results.

Although the novel was written almost 70 years ago, Aboubakr says the audience will spot plenty of similarities with contemporary events around the world.

“This is a tale about what would happen if people were controlled and surveilled all the time,” he says. “Take privacy for example. This is a real issue, where people are either being listened in on or watched all the time. We saw that with Edward Snowden’s revelations. But even with social media and reality TV, it seems like everyone is losing their privacy. So it feels like Orwell almost had a premonition about what was to come in the future.”

However, the 41-year-old director adds that the play does not aim to make any political statement beyond Orwell’s original themes.

“The purpose is to entertain and discuss the topic of privacy and how people’s own urge to share their entire life can be used against them,” he says.

The production uses audiovisual elements to complement the live performance and move the story forward. Along with screen projections, the audience will hear Big Brother interact with the cast on stage.

Aboubakr promises a truly immersive experience.

“We are going to be reaching out to the many senses of the audience, with traditional action on stage and the film rolling in the background,” he says.

1984 by Backstage is at The ­Junction, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, from ­tonight until Saturday. Tickets start from Dh100; call 04 3388 525