Technology For Big Brother
by Imagine Graphics

The edje MPEG digital video players (in sync with SFX) are used to create the ambiance of 1984 technology control in major theatre production.

The powerful and versatile, yet compact edje MPEG digital video player.

Northern Stage Ensemble implemented hard-disk based digital video playback devices supplied by Imagine Graphics in its theatre production of George Orwell’s 1984, the origin of Big Brother and Room 101.

The company just completed a major tour of UK cities including performances at the Newcastle Playhouse, the Haymarket Theatre in Leicester and The Lyric in Hammersmith, London.  Acclaimed by many theatre critics,Nothern Stage’s 1984 breaks new ground in the use of digital video and audio technology to enhance the production and the actors’ performance.

Throughout the production of Orwell’s 1984 digital video is projected onto large moveable stage screens.  The 1200-lumen projectors are driven by edje players.  The edje MPEG digital video player and network appliance is a very small but powerful device that can store and play back up to 12 hours of broadcast quality video and stereo audio.  Manufactured by Adtec Digital in the USA and distributed in the UK by Imagine Graphics Ltd., the edje is easy to set up and control using standard serial and network connections.

Lead actor Craig Conway plays Winston Smith in front of one of the large digital video screens showing 1984’s Big Brother.

Rob Brown, Head of Sound and AV at Northern Stage, chose to control the edjes from a PC running the popular SFX show control software from Stage Research Inc. Since the 3 edjes can be “daisy-chained” on the same RS-232 serial connection only one COMs port is needed on the PC.  However each edje can be individually addressed and commanded by its unique name.  All commands such as Cue, Play and Stop are programmed in plain English making it extremely easy to set up and use.  Video and audio outputs can be blanked on command.

Each edjeis loaded with MPEG-2 digital video and stereo audio media via its industry standard network connection.  MPEG-2 media is available as an output option on all of the leading PC and MAC based DV editing, effects and compositing systems.  For the 1984 production Rob Brown loaded about 2 hours worth of different media on each edje.  Only 2 units are used for the production with the third kept on hot stand-by.  From power-on the units take just 10 seconds to be ready to play media–-much faster than a PC or a tape based system.  The unit is powered by a small 12V power supply which makes it ideal for mobile and temporary applications. 

Rob Brown says: “We chose the edje as a replacement for the DV tape based systems we have used in the past.  They have proved very reliable considering we were continually de-rigging and moving the production to new venues around the country.  The edje can play media on demand and much more efficiently and reliably than tape based systems such as VTRs or even DVD players.  We will certainly use the edje for other productions we are planning for the future.”

Imagine Graphics Ltd. supplied Northern Stage with the edje units and provided all necessary technical support to configure and program them for the application.  

Northern Stage use three edje MPEG players mounted in a flight case for ease of transport, set-up and control from a PC running SFX show control software.


Said Alfred Hickling, theatre critic of The Guardian: “Faced with Orwell's savage prophecy of surveillance screens, thought-crime and Newspeak, we might be forgiven for feeling relieved that we got off lightly with yuppies, ra-ra skirts and Spandau Ballet. Orwell's broader image of the future, however, was of a boot stamping on a human face forever. Here, the audience faces the stage while Alan Lyddiard's Northern Stage Ensemble puts the boot in.

Ensemble is an egalitarian, project-based group of artists, technicians and support staff and has aggressively forged a new identity for regional theatre in the 21st century. Not so much a rep as a total theatre-machine, N
orthern Stage specialises in techno-drama for the digital age, which can make old-fashioned analogue theatre-going seem very tame by comparison. Animal Farm and William Trevor's Ballroom of Romance have already been given the treatment; and the present production reunites the creative team responsible for the much-acclaimed A Clockwork Orange. One wonders what Lyddiard and company intend to do when they run out of dystopian novels to assault; but, for the moment, 1984 is a staggering, if slightly stomach-turning, experience.

While some have dismissed Orwell as a false prophet, the current production treats him as an oracle. His pessimistic vision is, after all, insinuated throughout modern society in ways that he could not possibly have foreseen. Perhaps there are no telescreens, but we have call-monitoring, CCTV and an internet terminal in every home. And what is double-think but the definition of political spin, or the neutered language of Newspeak but the rapidly shrinking lexicon of the text-message?

Northern Stage's pacy, jump-cut adaptation is a volatile combination of video ultra-violence, sound-montage and sadism, cast in monochrome shadow and interrogative white light. Neil Murray's minimal design of circling and realigning screens enables a running commentary to develop between Lyddiard's live actors and Mark Murphy's brutalist film sequences, shot in Newcastle and Moscow.”