Culture | Lifestyle

Playhouse Theatre production of George Orwell’s 1984

July 7, 2014

Big Brother is watching you…

The Headlong Theatre production prides itself on it’s “generous unpredictability” (Observer) and it’s “dedication to new ways of making theatre” through “radical reinvigorations of the classic repertoire” (

Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillian’s production of George Orwell’s famous novel 1984, does exactly this.

Not knowing what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised at the innovative way in which the past and future were clearly emphasized within the play, and how true to the novel the narrative was. The narrative embodied the uncertainty of what the future might bring through contradicting thoughts and projected the fears of Big Brother, almost as vividly as the book does. The simple yet effect way in which the actors would freeze on stage, allowing only Comrade 6079 Winston Smith, to move and speak, strongly suggested that the audience was in the same situation as he, a state of shock and could thus identify with Smith’s desperate need to piece the puzzle together.

The overhead screen which almost acted as a cinema screen for the audience to see what the two protagonist’s where doing in the off stage room, not only added a modern twist but simultaneously suggested a strong sense of the past; we only saw images of them which subtly fed into the debated question of what is real, and whether they exist.

The depiction of “Room 101” was hugely contrasted with the rest of the play. The stage was transformed into a room made up of blindingly bright white lights, giving off a very futuristic and clinical feel. This, along with the way the theatre would be suddenly plunged into darkness with intervals of flashing garish lights and loud, unrecognisable sounds, defintely supported Headlong Theatre production’s new and radical take on a classic. Our senses are awakened. The questions of identity, surveillance, what is real and what is going on in Winston Smith’s mind, the meaning of a higher power and the influence an individual, such as Winston Smith, really has on society, are all addressed and remain inconclusive; in both the stage adaptation as well as the original text.

The ability to stay true to the text whilst adding a modern spin in the way of interpretive theatre, is what makes this performance a success. Although some critics fear that this kind of interpretive theatre might become a trend, transcending the more traditional style adaptation of classic novels that we have become accustomed to. This stage production stimulates the senses and awakes one’s curiosity regarding the authoritarian state vs. the individual, and seems to be the perfect length at 1hour40 mins long; any longer and the subject matter would run the risk of becoming somewhat overwhelming. I believe that the modern techniques and radical interpretations that make this performance unique, can only be a good thing with respect to the future of theatre and how it might compete with cinema and other progressive art forms; we do not want to control expression in theatre too much, and thus run the risk of becoming “thought police” ourselves do we?! If you enjoy a dystopian narrative and a modern twist on a classic, do go watch!

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