1984 review - May 2014

Undeniably Powerful

I absolutely love theatre that has the ability to make me feel something, especially terror! That may sound odd but psychological thrillers are harder to pull off on stage and when a show manages to strike some real element of fear in me, I am impressed! What could be more terrifying than the totalitarian social commentary of George Orwell's infamous classic, 1984?*

This production, currently running at the Playhouse Theatre, has ventured all the way from Nottingham Playhouse to London's hottest Fringe venue, the Almeida, and then on to the West End. With a good run behind it the show was clearly of a high performance standard. Sam Carne and Hara Yannas were chilling as lovers and comrades Winston and Julia. Their character arcs were performed with cold believability; they went from frozen and solitary to warm and caring back to frozen again. 

Headlong Theatre's play, created by Robert Icke Duncan Macmillan, was strangely both overcooked and raw in equal measures. The shows running time of 101 minutes seemed to me like a bit of a gimmick, that maybe could have worked if it was explored further (perhaps with a visual countdown reminder on stage?) I liked the new spin on the production, that approached the show from Orwell's footnotes, examining Winstons character from a historical point of view, almost as if his diaries depicting the state were a possible work of fiction.

Chloe Lamford's set was interesting. When I first walked in to the auditorium I was expecting the design to be more futuristic rather than a mish mash of eras. However on pondering this I realised it was a very clever choice on Lamford's behalf as she was dispensing with a tightly held cliche and anti-pinpointing the show in time and location. In some ways this made the show more hard hitting; Winston's journal could be a work of fiction or he could have been depicting a past from which he and many others were erased, never to be thought of again...

So what of the terror I was so longing for? Hm. In some ways I was absorbed in the action; projections of "HATE" and "THOUGHT CRIMINAL" were undeniably powerful, as was the prescribed two minutes hate performed by the somewhat possessed actors. For me though, I wasn't totally sold. I am not sure that a traditional performance structure does the story of 1984 any real justice. I think the production would work better as a promenade, site specific and immersive performance in the style of Shunt or La Fura dels Baus. Now that would be terrifying.

Overall the production is solid, but not quite as thought provoking as I'd have liked. The show is a nice adaptation of a text I feel should never be stuck behind a 4th wall...

1984 west end review
*What can be more terrifying you ask? The fact that even the staff seemed to be in on the power and intimidation act! Anyone unfortunate enough to need to urinate during the show was forcefully told that if they decided to leave the auditorium they would NOT be re-admitted. Yes it's a one act, but at an hour and forty, some people may need to piddle. If they were one of the unfortunate ones with weak bladders they could no longer hold, they were unceremoniously tossed out of the auditorium behind a velvet curtain from which they would never return. Room 101 perhaps?!
14 May 2014, Playhouse Theatre