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1984: A spine-tingling adaptation of an Orwellian classic

| Theatre | 27/05/2014

1984 at the Playhouse Theatre
1984 at the Playhouse Theatre

1984 is a novel that has been read a countless number of times, it has been captured in motion picture, but Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s stage adaptation of 1984, captures the real gritty and surreal essence of George Orwell’s timeless classic. Orwell’s 1949 novel encapsulates a society where privacy and community of feeling are banished, love forbidden, history erased, language heavily distorted; at the core of this unforgiving totalitarian rule, the Party, attempting to control the thought-processes of each individual within its society, gradually eroding any sense of liberty, and freedom they may have thought they possessed. This is a fierce adaptation, which offers a new perspective on Orwell’s dystopian novel.

The narrative crucially draws on Orwell’s appendix entitled ‘The Principles of Newspeak’, which emphasises that the past, present and future occur in a constant dialogue. The play opens with a ghost-like Winston Smith (Sam Crane), in we are led to believe a time after 2050, amidst a discussion debating the authenticity of the text; was Winston’s account a true representation of how the Party attempted to control mind and body? Or is it something entirely different, after all it was written in the year 1984? The book-club seems to be drawn to the conclusion that it was fiction, it was never real; it appears the world that Winston inhabited was lost, or was it? The ingenious of the production is that you’re never quite sure. Icke and Macmillan are able to ingeniously present the overlapping time-zones, in which Winston lived, and lives, with great skill.

Winston stumbles through the past and the present, his defiance against the Party and Big Brother are unquestionable. Icke and Macmillan explore the idea of hope, that by showing us the future we are able to question the present, and escape the eye of Big Brother. Well as the play proceeded Winston surely believed in this sentiment; alongside fellow protestor Julia (Hara Yannas), whom he quickly fell in love with, together they attempt to defy the state, and keep their budding subversive romance in the shadows of the Party. Their doomed love affair is performed in rich detail on-stage.

Icke and Macmillan whilst guiding the audience through a disorienting 101 minutes were able to show that even when you think you’re safe in the shadows Big Brother, or in this case the Thought Police, you’re always being watched- something Winston and Julia fall prey to. Whether the two-minute hate or the Ministry of Love were pigments of Winston’s imagination, 1984 is a though-provoking play that plunges you into an indifferent society, where you can’t quite grasp what is real and what is imaginary.

The production makes smart use of sudden freezes in the action on stage. It is as if the production is playing on loop; the song ‘Oranges and Lemons’ constantly being sung and heard, the power failures, the discussions. Just as O’Brien was playing and manipulating the mind of Winston in Room 101 with the use of rats to torture and beat a confession out of him with spine-tingling and bloody finesse; it seems that Icke and Macmillan were attempting to play a mind games with the audience. You are never quite sure what are real, as you attempt to piece together the contradictions of Winston’s experiences, with earth shattering results at the end.

Sam Crane as Winston Smith, 1984 at the Playhouse Theatre

Sam Crane as Winston Smith, 1984 at the Playhouse Theatre

The setting of 1984 is a drab looking antique shop that caters for much of the production. In was in this dreary setting that Sam Crane as Winston, produces a stirring performance, that captures the essence of Winston. Crane naturally is able to present Winston’s emotions, pains, desires and defiance, in a manner which captures the agonisingly painful experiences of stumbling through both past and present. This is a cast where there was no weak element; Hana Yannas was able to present the naivety of Julia, whilst Tim Dutton was the perfect organisational man with a mission to eradicate all thought-processes.

Icke’s and Macmillan’s dramatisation of Orwell’s classic is a stunning adaptation of Orwell’s post-war novel. This is a chilling adaptation that remains remarkably faithful to the novel. Whether 1984 is a figment of Winston’s imagination or not, this adaptation is a tour de force that questions our very notions of freedom; are we free, or are we slaves like Winston, living in a world of fiction?

By Sandip Kana (@sandipkana)

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