Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s recent adaptation of Orwell’s 1984 sees an entirely new cast take to the West End stage of the prestigious Playhouse Theatre. This is a venue that boasts legacy, with a plaque to George Bernard Shaw’s first performance of Arms and The Man along with gilded cherubs, decadent murals as well as having hosted The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Beatles in bygone days.
Michael Etterl // via enjoythecrawl.wordpress.com
The question that the opening scene of the book club poses is ‘how does one go about scrutinising a book with such legacy?’ And by extension, how should it be appropriately adapted to the stage? What’s tasteful is the lack of attempt to use the play as a contemporary fable and failing to allude directly to the modern day as the tale exists within its own sphere.
Running at 101 minutes, the scene is set with an unsettled Winston Smith, wracked with nerves whilst hunched over his desk in a dimly lit hard wood-clad office. Winston’s character becomes increasingly disassociated, through an exposition of the consumption of madness and paranoia, perhaps more so than the book illustrates. The play tempts initially at banality, soon thwarted with jarring digital screeches and offensive pangs of white light. The use of lighting as overseen by Natasha Chivers is suitably stark, gentle sephias marking the soft moments of human intimacy, whilst orange hues illuminate the motif of ‘Oranges and Lemons’, all markedly juxtaposed by the clinical floodlights of Room 101.
Mixed media is incorporated through a series of film clips as a window to Winston’s private quarters, ironically displayed across a huge screen that enforces the omniscient nature of the state. This ingeniously frames the dismantling of Winston as a character through the physical deconstruction of the bedroom; momentarily exposed onstage before seamlessly morphing into the torturous Ministry of Love, governed by the cruel hand of Angus Wright as O’Brien.
A sensual assault, 1984 is a violent, terrifying and arresting depiction of a truly dystopian vision.
1984 runs at the Playhouse Theatre until October 29th. For more information on tickets and the play itself click here.