One of the most popular adjectives of the twenty and twenty-first century is ‘Orwellian.’ However, this has occasionally been used without understand the true meaning or context of the phrase. ‘Orwellian’ has been used to reference all things tyrannical, oppressive, and smacking of blood red Communism. It’s therefore fortunate for us, and for the Prague Fringe, that we have Michael McEvoy to show us the light…or at least a more accurate way to throw around a popular buzzword.
‘The Last Man in Europe: A Portrait of George Orwell,’ written and performed by McEvoy and showing at Divadlo Kampa, is another thought-provoking and deeply original work more than worthy of this Festival. Directed by Joanna Bowen and Jennifer McEvoy, this one man show, with its minimal set and unbroken monologue, is evocative as nostalgic without being ponderous or sluggish.
We open at a sanatorium in the English countryside were Eric Blair (that would be George Orwell’s real name, for those of you not in the know) is recovering from a bout of tuberculosis. It is a letter from his first love, the unseen dark-haired Jacinta, that sets off a chain of personal reflection, reminiscing, and an examination of the legacy Blair seeks to leave behind. Such reflections take us on journey through childhood, his lonely days at a posh boarding school, and, of course, his friendship with Jacinta that not only turned to love but, influenced the path his life would take for years to come. These meditations are interspersed with readings not only from his childhood, but from his work in later years.
It is worth noting that these readings do not hinder the flow of the play, rather they are well-timed throughout the show, and selected not only for dramatic power, put personal relevance. It is to McEvoy’s credit that he selected and placed these extracts right where they needed to be. They also add to the time line McEvoy creates, as recited news articles and even BBC broadcasts enhance the tone and atmosphere of that particular time and place.
The only speed-bump to this performance is McEvoy’s tendency to speak a little too quickly and therefore seem to trip up over his lines. However, I wasn’t sure if this was all the actor, and not Blair’s excitable personality at work; I guessed a bit of both. But, this did not diminish the show by any means, and what actor is not guilty of that every now and then.
McEvoy inhabits the skin of Blair so well and with such consideration that we are shown not only the tumultuous age in which he and his wife lived, but the very creative process that produced his legendary work. From tales of Blair’s posting in Burma to his down and out days in Paris to the rampant inequality in London and abroad, we see his awakening not only as a voice for social change, but as a writer who seeks to alter the world he lives in through the power of his words. McEvoy brings us through the chaos and social-political double-cross of the Spanish Civil War, events that would later inspire the grim fable ‘Animal Farm.’ Later work at the BBC during the insanity of the Second World War creates the even darker warning,’1984.’
In his exasperation with the propaganda machine on both sides, we witness his writing come into its own. Personal loss adds another layer to this rich tale as Blair buries himself in his work.
In a time where words like ‘socialism,’ ‘communism,’ ‘fascism,’ and ‘tyranny’ are tossed around without any regard for their true meaning or context, this performance is more than timely. One could not help but compare the manipulation of language of post-World War Two England to the own word crunchers selling us the same bloodshed and delusion.
As of writing, tonight, June 1st, is your last chance to see this incredible show. The longer of the Fringe plays, coming in at an hour and a half, I think it is worth every minute. Sure, ‘Last Man in Europe’ is not for all who prefer froth, fun, and shocks, but more will give it the time it deserves. Perhaps you’ll walk away a bit more, and truly, Orwellian.
Rachael Collins, Prague Film & Theater Center