Nineteen Eighty-Four

Reviewer's rating

This play is a new adaptation, based on George Orwell’s 1984, one of the definitive texts of the 20th Century.

For those not familiar with the story – it centres on Winston Smith, a low-ranking member of the ruling Party in the nation of Oceania. Everywhere Winston goes, even his own home, the Party watches him through telescreens; everywhere he looks he sees the face of the Party’s seemingly omniscient leader, a figure known only as Big Brother. The reality of this world is played out through Winston’s narration, and we witness the horror of his existence as he begins a diary as an act of defiance towards the Party, with terrible consequences.

1984 is an ambitious new co-production between Headlong and the Nottingham Playhouse that tackles the huge themes of Orwell’s classic text resulting in a performance of almost unbearable intensity. Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan have adapted the book very cleverly, focusing in on certain sections of the original text and in particular making use of repetition of certain scenes to represent the disintegration of Winston’s mind. This has a very unsettling effect, making the action at times hard to follow – but this is surely the idea, an attempt to instil in the audience some of the confusion and chaos going on inside Winston’s head.

From the very beginning of the show, the technical elements make it into something very special. The set design appears to be simple but as the mundane canteen transforms abruptly into Room 101, you are left feeling somewhat incredulous and genuinely thrilled by the ingenuity of it. This set change is an integral part of the play, as it calls in to question everything you have seen thus far. Throughout, we are made complicit to the surveillance of Winston and Julie’s love affair through the use of hidden cameras, which projects in intimate detail their interactions onto a huge screen.

Video projection, lighting and sound combine to create a devastating effect – at times the audience is blinded, at times deafened, you get the sense that everything you are seeing is being edited, just as the Party edits Winston’s reality. There are moments during this play which were difficult to watch, and the gruesome torture scenes are not for the faint-hearted – some members of the audience even cried out at the gunshots, and gasped as new horrors were revealed.

The actors also do an amazing job. Hara Yannas as Julia and Mark Arends as Winston portray the raw passion of their love with admirable frankness, while O’Brien, played by Tim Dutton, is tantalisingly enigmatic as the play begins and increasingly spine-chilling as it draws to its dramatic close. The rest of the company are equally impressive.

This is a doubleplusgood show (to fittingly use a Newspeak word), with themes that have a relevance to us, that have the power to haunt us still; one not to be missed!