1984Playhouse Theatre, London
Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s adaptation of George Orwell's 1984 delivers a new slant on the classic story.
A reading group, studying the text of Winston Smith's book, tries to determine the truth of the story. At certain moments, Winston is seen to bleed into their time zone and/or consciousness (and vice versa). Such a breaking of the fourth wall - from the internal narrative point of view - is taken a stage further later on, as Winston pleads with the real audience to help him as he is forced to confront his greatest fear - ravenous rats! - in Room 101.
Such a challenging of the perceptions of both characters and audience is a recurring theme throughout the play (which lasts, incidentally, 101 minutes - without an interval). Scenes are replayed, but with key differences; characters formerly present have been erased from history and narrative simultaneously. Flickering lights and obscure noises frequently distract the audience, who look again to find characters have somehow appeared on stage, literally in the blink of an eye.
We are left to try and distinguish between a number of different realities. What is real? What has been censored by an unseen hand? Can any of Winston's own story be trusted or is it all in his mind?
Some of the action on the stage is enhanced by large screens set against the backdrop, showing, for example, a close up of Winston writing things down and crossing them out in fear. The performance are all very strong but I particularly enjoyed Tim Dutton's portrayal of O'Brien, a study in composed menace (he would make a great No. 2 in The Prisoner).
The story of 1984 become more relevant as time goes by. Despite the warnings, we willingly rush headlong into our own compromised futures with every online click. Big Brother still needs you, but he doesn't need to work anywhere near as hard as he used to.
This version of 1984 simply demands attention. It is creative, thought provoking and extremely challenging. It's touring later in the year; keep an eye on the official website for further details.