City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

George Orwell's Coming Up for Air

By Lorraine McCann - Posted on 06 August 2008

Hal Cruttenden as George Bowling in 'Coming Up for Air'
Show details
Assembly Rooms
Running time: 
Gene David Kirk (director), Dominic Cavendish (adaptation of George Orwell's novel)
Hal Cruttenden (George Bowling)

Not much of a joker, was he, that George Orwell? Bit of a misery, in fact. The sort of bloke who makes Gordon Brown look vivacious and outgoing. And yet, for all his banging on about war, and socialism, and the wretched, invisible agonies of the petit-bourgeoisie, can he sometimes be inspiring? This immensely deft adaptation by Dominic Cavendish suggests that indeed he can.

The hugely endearing Hal Cruttenden plays George Bowling, a man from whom the will to live is ebbing away faster than you can say "antimacassar." He has submerged himself in Ellesmere Road, in the inner outer suburbs of London. It is a neighbourhood crammed full of men just like him; men who are dying from a thousand cuts; from nagging wives and gas bills and soapy necks; men for whom another war will provide untold disruption at an unknown price. But George has a plan to escape it all for a few days; to get back to his childhood home and take a few deep breaths.

The key to this piece is all in the playing. Orwell’s anatomy of a disappointed man is so precise, so exquisitely painful, that the performance must act like a balm. And that’s exactly what Cruttenden does. He varies pace and tone perfectly, rendering George both pathetic and heroic at the same time. And even if the feminist in me wanted to assert that his wife seemed entirely one-dimensional, and that surely her inner life was atrophying too, I was touched more than anything by the way the piece evoked that weird publicness that exists within families, how even in his own home a man has to give a performance to his loved ones.

Poignant, subtle and bitterly funny, this beautifully crafted show is a momento vivendi aimed at everyday revolution – and you can’t really have enough of them.

Dates and Times: 1-25 August (not Mon Aug 11) at 11:00