With what is an exciting time for the Almeida theatre, tucked away off Upper Street and now firmly under the Artistic leadership of Rupert Gould, west ends transfers under the belt and an adventurous new season announced comes undoubtedly an increased air of expectation. With 1984, Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan do not disappoint, and continue the extraordinary journey of a building emerging at the forefront of British theatre.
A co-production with Headlong and the Nottingham Playhouse, 1984 moves in to the somewhat more intimate space of the Almeida which only weeks ago had 80’s power ballads bouncing off its walls and blood stains adorning the stage. The performance soon lets you know it has arrived and intends on showing it deserves its place in the journey of the Almeida to interrogate the present, dig up the past and imagine the future, achieving all three in one foul swoop.
Such an important text, one I studied myself back at school, I suspect will bring in a loyal audience and importantly a younger group that are the theatre goes of the future. The savvy Drama or English teacher that has booked a school group in to see this production should be feeling very pleased with themselves. In a recent interview, Rupert Goold was recently quoted as suggesting that every show should change theatre, I believe this will give a number of first time and younger audience members an eye opening and positive first time experience of the potential and importance of theatre.
Focusing and drawing on the appendix of the original text, at the hour mark it begins to feel quite dense as one begins to question the decision of not having an interval. Yet it is at this point as an observer that the direction changed, you find yourself engaged and immersed in the world on the stage and soon forget, understand and feel thankful for that lack of interval. The design, and ultimately the stage management and technical team work wonders in transforming the space and truly start to deliver on the theatres promise to challenge the audience member. The layers to the interpretation are deep rooted, intellectual without being inaccessible. At the heart of the performance, when all technology, clever staging and history is stripped away lies two key theatrical elements, love and sacrifice.
Whether you are familiar or not with the original text, the production is a feast for the eyes, the sight of physical torture visibly impacted on a number of audience members. I would consider this a testament to the power of the world created and the acting as opposed to questioning its necessity. The use of technology blurs the lines between theatre and cinema, placing you firmly at the end of the camera that you may not be used to. I for one left with an increased awareness of surveillance as I exited the theatre. Are we being watched? If I had any doubt before, the answer now sits as a categorical yes.
The cast are obviously well rehearsed and tight in the running of the show following its previous run, yet avoid any tiredness in their application and appear to strive and delight in the knowledge of what a strong piece they are a part of. Mark Arends and Hana Yannas are perfectly cast as Winston and Julia yet it is the strength in subtlety that Christopher Patrick Nolan brings to Martin and the thoughtful and engaging delivery of Mr Charrington by Stephen Fewell that win me over, showing that it is the quality in depth of the cast that have brought them to this level of performance without the increasing reliance on a ‘name’ recognised in popular culture.