Passion is infectious. Just as laughter can start with one person in a room and gradually spread like a slow-burning fire to everyone else there, passion for a particular subject can leap from one person to another. The massive rise in popularity of podcasts and TED talks certainly attests to that, and theatres often have a strand of their programme which fits into the “an evening with” offer that experience.
These kind of events have certainly proved popular at Greenwich Theatre, and this summer Germaine Greer will be back for a special one-night appearance. Alan Johnson is now lined up for the autumn, and Margaret Atwood is set to appear as part of the Moon Festival in Greenwich in July.
However, it is often the case that some of the most infectious speakers exist in academia, and it is only rarely that general audiences are offered the chance to attend lectures or discussions in that environment. Thankfully, that is not the case when it comes to the annual Orwell symposium at Goldsmiths University in New Cross.
Scheduled for Thursday 9 May this year, Goldsmiths will throw open the doors to anyone interested in attending a day of talks and events linked to George Orwell, this year celebrating 70 years since the publication of Orwell’s seminal novel, 1984.
Tim Crook, one of the speakers on the day and organiser of the symposium, will be known to many as the man who wrote the book behind the acclaimed BBC TV drama Mrs Wilson, but his love of Orwell dates back to his youth.
“I became devoted to George Orwell’s writing when a teenager” he said, “and by the age of 15 I had read everything then published of his novels and essays. But my commitment was such that I failed my English O-level because I was only prepared to answer questions that enabled me to write about Orwell.
“So, instead of writing four essay answers, I wrote only one – the equivalent in length of four essays on Orwell’s prose. Obviously, when I think about this now, I say to my younger self, ‘What an idiot!’ But at the same time it was a reflection of the passion and respect I had for his iconoclastic and political writing.”
The symposium may coincide with the anniversary of Orwell’s most famous novel, but it is not the first year that it has taken place.
“This is the fourth George Orwell Studies symposium” Tim continued. “It has built up an international force in scholarship and interest in Orwell’s writing and life and times. It’s wonderful how George Orwell’s son, Richard Blair, has attended and supported all four symposiums.”
This year’s event will include contributions from Professor John Newsinger (author of Hope Lies in the Proles), Orwell’s biographer D.J. Taylor, Professor Richard Keeble (chair of the Orwell Society) and theatre director Jonathan Holloway on dramatising 1984 both for BBC Radio 4 and for live performance. The day will also include a live performance by Creative Vortex from Peter Cordwell and Carl Picton’s proletarian cabaret One Georgie Orwell.
Whether audiences are life-long fans of Orwell, have just come across his major works or are looking to be converted to something new, there can be no better way of engaging with his life and work than by sharing in the passion and enthusiasm of others.
James Haddrell is the Artistic & Executive Director of Greenwich Theatre.