Coming Up For Air


"Which Would You Sooner Listen To, a Bluebottle or a Bombing Plane?" When I heard that George Orwell’s Coming Up For Air was being adapted as a one-man stage show, I couldn’t wait to see it. It’s high time for a new interpretation of Orwell’s work. Bernard Cuffling was flawless as George Bowling, a kind of people’s-choice tour guide of suburban England prior to World War II. In his production notes, Leslie Mildiner wrote that it took about five years for the play to come together, and “ . . . in the intervening years, the events of September 11th had given the play a decidedly chilling modern-day relevance.” It could be said that we didn’t require a September 11th to give Orwell’s writing a chilling modern-day relevance—in the fifty-five years since the novel was published, we’ve had plenty of atrocities, all in the category of recent history. Mildiner did a careful job of extracting what was essential to convey this vintage Orwell wake-up call. As events unfolded, the end of the play was actually more frightening than the end of the novel, which was almost distractingly lighthearted. It wasn’t necessary to read the novel in order to get the most out of the play, but it’s worthwhile comparing the dénouements. Sound designer Stephen Courtenay created an elaborate backdrop of images and music from the era, which added a fine finish to this minimal but consummate adaptation, adapted for the stage by Leslie Mildiner, starring Bernard Cuffling as George Bowling, performed at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre in March 25.

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