George Orwell’s classic book 1984 was not always going to be easily transferable to the stage. But a new production of it has just opened at the Playhouse Theatre.
If you’ve ever read the book (either in school or for leisure), you will know the story. Written in 1949, when the year 1984 seemed like a long way off, Orwell wrote about a world where, simply, big brother is watching everything you do, everywhere you go. It’s like the present day North Korea where the government dictates how and where you will live your life, but it takes it to a bit more extreme in that anyone with an individual thought or who speaks bad about the government is punished, it’s a totalitarian state.
The protagonist of the show is Winston Smith (bravely acted by Andrew Gower). He knows and understands that the world he lives in is bad, cruel, harsh. And he really hates it. He has put his thoughts onto paper, an illegal act if there ever was one. But there’s lots more to this complicated story, on the surface and underneath, and to explain it would be to write a very long explanation.
But in summary, Smith has an affair with Julia (Catrin Stewart) and it all goes wrong for both of them. You see, they thought that a secret bedroom they were shown by a shopkeeper was free of surveillance, but it wasn't. They’re rustled up and taken to prison where they are interrogated, and the shopkeeper turns out to be a spy for the government. Smith is labeled a ’thought criminal’ and is tortured, and comes face to face with his self-confessed worst nightmare - rats.
A production of 1984 was produced by Nottingham's Headlong Theatre company before embarking on a UK tour in 2013 and then had a sell out run at the Almeida Theatre. It’s a show that’s hard to watch. The story, and characters, are a bit complicated and not very well understood; we seen them but don’t really know who they are. And perhaps that’s the point. But it takes shock theatre to all new levels with lots of blood in the torture scene (the woman next to me had her eyes closed), and the use of very bright strobe lights used intermittently during the play which is very jaring. But it’s Chloe Lamford's sets that keep ‘1984’ in it’s time period - it’s a minimalist world where total surveillance is common. Credit goes to Directors Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan for putting together a show from a book that’s been described as complicated at best. And Gower gives an amazing performance as the literally tortured soul who is punished for his thoughts.
If you can stomach a production of 1984, then this is well worth the effort. If you’re looking for something a bit lightheated, then this show is not the show for you.