Review: 1984 @ Playhouse Theatre, London

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It may well be one of the most haunting novels of all time. It’s been turned into multiple films, and analysed a few thousand times, but the chance to watch the West End production of Orwell’s 1984 at the Playhouse Theatre was one I could not miss out on. The mirror this work of literary genius has on today’s society is addressed head on and directly through the emotive performances, dystopian sound and light effects, and clever re-working of the words themselves, which all combine to leave one lasting question resounding in my head: could we be in 1984 now?

Writer-directors Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan have reconfigured Orwell’s agonising plot, focusing more on the state-sponsored torture. Sam Crane’s frail Winston endures 101 minutes of painful flashbacks, terrifying emerging silhouettes and exploding walls. Oh, and so do we. The beauty of this show is that it isn’t like a show, instead more like a live action interaction piece. Everything that we watch, we experience, and the horror I was immersed in is what I remember most prominently.

The effects on stage really do make the play the standard that it is. The ear-piercing, spine-tingling drone that is played between every scene, as the lights in the theatre are completely turned off, reveal a dystopian situation that l only fear – much different from my last trip to the West End to see Wicked.

And then there’s Room 101. Stunningly terrifying are the only words that can describe this played out in front of you. Again, the effects used in this sequence bring the action to life, and indeed the petrifying words of Orwell. You feel every numbing torture used on Winston yourself, and the fluidity of the prop work on stage is truly effective. Everyone has a different image conjured up in their mind of the infamous room where the Thought Police carry out their finest work, however the minimalistic staging lets you harbour your own creation, whilst bringing it to life with Crane’s haunting screams only a few metres away.

The actual shuffling of the structure from the novel to the play is truly creative, and brings a whole new lease of life to the message Orwell sent out back in 1949. The state surveillance, the idea that no amount of PC will ever be enough, and the message that is very much alive today – that to deny the governing body invasion into every aspect of your private life is to be a criminal perpetrator, committing against your state (although Orwell’s Big Brother may take things a little further than David Cameron).

This play has you immersed deep within the world, mind, and body of Winston Smith from minute one out of 101- a fitting performance time for such a mind-blowing portrayal of pure and utter terror.

Words by Ellena Rowlin

Jess is your Deputy Editor

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