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© Manuel Harlan

Mark Arends (Winston) and Hara Yannas (Julia) in '1984'

© Manuel Harlan

The cast of '1984'

© Manuel Harlan

Cast of '1984'

Manuel Harlan
© Manuel Harlan

Sam Crane

© Manuel Harlan

Stephen Fewell

© Manuel Harlan

Christopher Patrick Nolan

© Manuel Harlan

Hara Yannas (Julia)

© Manuel Harlan

Tim Dutton (O'Brien) and Mark Arends (Winston Smith)

© Tristram Kenton

Christopher Patrick Nolan, Richard Bremmer, Harra Yannas, Tim Dutton & Mark Arends

© Tristram Kenton

Mark Arends (Winston)

© Tristram Kenton

Mark Arends (Winston) & Hara Yannas (Julia)

© Tristram Kenton

Stephen Fewell, Tim Dutton, Mark Arends, Matthew Spencer & Mandi Symonds

© Tristram Kenton

Stephen Fewell (Charrington)

© Tristram Kenton

Matthew Spencer (Syme), Mark Arends (Winston) & Mandi Symonds (Mrs Parsons)

Playhouse Theatre, Trafalgar Square Monday July 6 2015 - Saturday September 5 2015
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Headlong's audacious re-working of Orwell's '1984' is great, queasy theatre.

'1984' returns to the West End from June 2015. This review is of the show's 2014 run.

Headlong’s adaptation of George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ is such a sense-overloadingly visceral experience that it was only the second time around, as it transfers to the West End, that I realised quite how political it was.

Writer-directors Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan have reconfigured Orwell’s plot, making it less about Stalinism, more about state-sponsored torture. Which makes great, queasy theatre, as Sam Crane’s frail Winston stumbles through 101 minutes of disorientating flashbacks, agonising reminisce, blinding lights, distorted roars, walls that explode in hails of sparks, figures that silently materialise from shadows, and the almost-too-much-to-bear Room 101 section, which churns past like ‘The Prisoner’ relocated to Guantanamo Bay.

It’s easy to be distracted by the sound and fury, and the clever structural tricks – it was only upon rewatching that I realised how directly it asks the question: could we be in ‘1984’ now?

Crane’s traumatised Winston lives in two strangely overlapping time zones – 1984 and an unspecified present day. The former, with its two-minute hate and its sexcrime and its Ministry of Love, clearly never happened. But the present day version, in which a shattered Winston groggily staggers through a 'norma'l but entirely indifferent world, is plausible. Any individual who has crossed the state – and there are some obvious examples – could go through what Orwell’s Winston went through. Second time out, it feels like an angrier and more emotionally righteous play.

Some weaknesses become more apparent second time too. While Hara Yannas’s creepily naïve Julia, Tim Dutton’s malevolently suave O’Brien and new cast member Crane’s Winston all impress, they’re essentially ciphers, not characters, something that’s less masked by techy flourishes if you’ve seen the show already.

Nonetheless, unless you’re a theatre critic I’m not sure you’d feel the need to put yourself through this brilliant but brutal production again; and if you do, then any familiarity will be lost in Room 101, a sequence that might make Blair himself blanche.

Reduced price tickets and an exclusive Q&A for the Tuersday June 23 performance when you book with Time Out

Venue name: Playhouse Theatre
Address: Northumberland Avenue
Transport: Embankment tube
Price: £19.84-£85. Runs 1hr 41mins (no interval)
Event website: http://www.headlong.co.uk

Average User Rating

4 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:11
  • 4 star:7
  • 3 star:2
  • 2 star:2
  • 1 star:2
2 people listening
2 of 2 found helpful
Staff Writer

We saw this production last night (the new 2015 cast) I have to say I wasn't expecting to enjoy the show. I've struggled with the book on a few occasions and don't think I have ever finished it. I have to say though I loved it and it moved along at a nice pace that made 101 minutes feel just the right length. The show has some incredible effects with sound and light and I thought this cast were excellent. It's so rare nowadays to see a complete black out in a theatre and you forget how much light emergency exit lights actually cast in an auditorium. In the bright light to pitch black atmosphere the production really drew me in. By the end of the show I was on the edge of my seat watching the torture scene. A brilliant night of theatre.

1 of 1 found helpful

I could not be more confused by last year's low-scoring user reviews. Admittedly, the opening didn't work for me as it's very intentionally disorienting and bombards you with a bit of Brazil-style weirdness rather than easing you into the story and orienting you to the world the way Orwell's novel does. It absolutely takes for granted some level of familiarity with the text, and that structural choice could colour your perception of the rest of the production, but it improves dramatically from the point of Julia's introduction onward. The performances are visceral and the stagecraft is second to none. I know a few people in attendance were seeing it for the second time, and it's easy to see why. Lives up to its critical reputation.

Jamie C
1 of 1 found helpful

You'd have to be a real ignoramus, or perhaps a member of the inner party itself, not to acknowledge what a brilliant play this is. A simply stunning, thought provoking and intelligent piece of theatre.

Mike G
1 of 1 found helpful


The five star reviews, the fulsome praise, the Olivier nominations … all of them convinced me that this show would be a very different kind of theatrical experience. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

“1984” is a thoroughly limp and sad little offering: mannered, wooden, pompous, self-conscious, unoriginal and utterly unengaging, with a bunch of actors united in their lack of talent, in their  technical incompetence and in their inability to deliver a believable line. The woefully useless performer playing Winston Smith was, in particular, an acute embarrassment. Was he the third understudy or the box office intern? We can only guess. 

This is a production which clearly thinks far too much of itself, its cleverness, its – oh, I don’t know, its daring? Its radical re-imagining of a literary classic? Is this what the director, cast and producer thought they had created? Really? Truly? My God.

What a dismal, dismal, dismal state of affairs. Imagine a 1st year production by the “C” stream at a fourth-rate drama college directed by a PE teacher seconded from the local primary school. You’re probably imaging a piece of work 10x better than this thoroughly abysmal experience.

We hung on like grim death for an hour, in the wan hope that this show and its cast of no-hopers, has-beens and never-will-bes would somehow salvage itself and arouse some vague interest, or forge some mild emotional connection, or half-impress us in some way. It stubbornly refused to do so. In truth, from the very first fruitily over-enunciated actorish line, we both had a horrible sinking feeling: this would not work out the way we had fondly imagined. We were on a hiding to nothing.

You can have your intelligence insulted by Big Brother at The Playhouse, or on Channel 5. They're both as bad as each other, but at least it doesn't cost £39 a ticket on Channel 5.

Bella M
1 of 1 found helpful

Just awful. First half I kept dozing off it was such a bore that made no sense what so ever. Then when it got loud and violent I stayed awake and still was confused and bored withe tbire concept. No idea what play was about. Very graphic.

1 of 1 found helpful

Tries to be very clever, but fails at many of the basics in the process. Underpowered performances, lacklustre direction and a messy script.

1 of 1 found helpful

A dreadful mess. Confused, sensationalist and pretentious, The only good thing was it made me want to have a look at the book again. In fact, before long I was wishing I was curled up at home reading it rather than watching this clunking production.

The Man on the Street
1 of 2 found helpful

Got out of the theatre this evening and rang my 18 year old son to tell him to see this show. Its 101 minutes with no interval. Its gripping, thought provoking, visually stunning and (for me at least) so much better than most shows in town. 

Emma S

1984 was quite simply brilliant! With fantastic acting, an amazing use of set, lighting and space; I’d highly recommend this play to anyone who enjoys good theatre! One of the most original and throught provoking plays I have seen in a while - totally brought the brilliance of Orwell to life. 1984 was not something I could imagine being done well on stage, how I was mistaken. The whole play is tight and thoroughly gripping, not a dull second. Go and see it! 

Rosie T

5 star all the way! 

Having not read the book, I went in with an open mind. It took awhile to understand exactly what was going on and what I was actually watching, but I liked that, a good lead up to the moment of getting me gripped! I was impressed with the production and the change process- had me hooked from start to end! 

I highly recommend this play- the best I have seen in a long time! 

Alexandra C

Extremely intense and thought provoking. I especially enjoyed the harshness and gore of room 101. If you are partial to a good surreal thriller I suggest you go and indulge in 1984

Leanne B

Not sure where all these 5 star reviews are coming from. Acting was quite uninspiring and the cleverness of the interpretation was in fact lost on me until later in the performance. I thought I could see what they were trying to do but it wasn't done well enough, which meant I spent the first 20 minutes saying "erm ... What?" . So-so, and it did get better as it went on. But a long way from 5 stars.

benji b

Never read the book, thought it was tedious, boring and confusing at parts. Well staged and acted but if you haven't read the book you will find it hard to understand what is going on.

Melanie R
0 of 1 found helpful

amazing play, well worth seeing! i had read the book, boyfriend hadn't we both loved it.

venue was a bit crappy though. huge queues for everything before the performance (to get tickets, bar, toilets), restricted view from the upper circle (which is doesn't tell you) and there is no re admittance to the auditorium if you go out e.g. to pee, so my other half got stuck outside for the last 30 minutes! there isn't an interval either so get there very early and have a strong bladder!

0 of 1 found helpful

Incredibly intense, and a stunning sensory experience. Standout performances from Sam Crane and Tim Dutton. Watch it and weep.

david d
0 of 1 found helpful

Picked up a day ticket for a tenner, front row. Fantastically staged, weird no doubt, but great acting and very in your face, and thank god no singing!

Martin C
0 of 1 found helpful

Still brilliant and better than at the Almeida. Sam Crane is a fantastic Winston, where the bloke they had before felt a bit mechanical. A life changing evening of theatre. 

Nick M
0 of 1 found helpful

Good adaptation of a difficult book to deliver on the stage, which ultimately transfers well (2 minutes hate and Room 101 in particular). The lighting and the sound create the atmosphere needed. Don't need to have read the book to enjoy it. Recommended. 

N.B Upper circle tickets are slightly restricted view, with the screen cut off slightly. This doesn't have much of an impact though, as the stage is still in full view.

0 of 1 found helpful

Possibly one of the best plays I have seen in London. Loved the staging, the acting, the story.

Kate Janoskova
0 of 1 found helpful

Have you read 1984? I bet you have, but if you can find someone who hasn't, I'd like to know what they thought about the play. Of course, you know what is in room 101, but that doesn't make it any less terrifying, especially when *spoilers* Winston makes a plea to the audience to help him. *end of spoilers*. The two minutes hate is as powerful as anything I have seen on stage. Excellent production, maybe a tad bit slow going at the beginning, but that is not diminishing to how it hopeless and futile it makes you feel by the time the last words are spoken.