George Orwell's Coming Up for Air

This article is from 2008.

George Orwell's Coming Up for Air

Adaptation of overlooked novel by born again Fringe virgin

On the eve of its 70th anniversary, one of George Orwell’s lesser-known novels has been adapted as a one-hour monologue to be performed by veteran Fringe actor and stand-up comedian Hal Cruttenden. Set in England in 1938, Coming Up For Air dramatises the dark mood of the times – the growing dread of the imminent war in Europe, the alienating nature of modernity – through the story of a middle-aged insurance salesman named George Bowling, who, fearing for the future of the nation, abandons suburbia for the countryside of his youth, where he attempts to salvage something from his dashed hopes and dreams.

Orwell’s novel has been adapted by Dominic Cavendish, who makes his Fringe debut as a writer but who has been coming to Edinburgh every August for years as theatre and comedy critic for The Daily Telegraph. It was on the way back to London last year that Cavendish read the book, and, struck by its contemporary resonance, turned it into a monologue earlier this year for his friend Cruttenden.

‘Orwell’s book has a peculiar pertinence,’ says Cavendish. ‘He was expressing a certain dread of the modern world, when society was in industrial overdrive. Today, with the war and the economic downturn, everything is going to pot. We have the urban sprawl and the Countryside Alliance. We have constant workloads to deal with. That’s a very noughties phenomenon. Orwell’s novel, which is an elegy for a vanishing England and a story of an early mid-life crisis, is very relevant to all of that. It speaks to anyone who is harried and overworked. So I thought now was the right time to bring it to the Fringe.’

In addition to selling his show to the punters, Cavendish will be undertaking his regular critical duties for the Telegraph. ‘For the first time in years I’m an Edinburgh virgin,’ he says. ‘People have said I must be mad.’

Assembly Rooms, 623 3030, 3–25 Aug (not 11), 11am, £11.50–£12.50 (£10.50–£11.50). Previews 1 & 2 Aug, £5.

George Orwell's Coming Up For Air

  • 4 stars

Adroit stage adaptation of Orwell's lesser-known 1939 novel, following a middle-aged man despairing at the failing economy and the erosion of civil liberties. 'Part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe'

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