Theatre , Drama Playhouse Theatre , Charing Cross Tuesday June 14 2016 - Saturday October 29 2016
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(38 user reviews)
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© Manuel Harlan

The cast of '1984'

© Manuel Harlan

Cast of '1984'

Manuel Harlan
© Manuel Harlan

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

© 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)

Headlong's audacious re-working of Orwell's '1984' is great, queasy theatre.

'1984' returns to the West End in 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

4.1 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:16
  • 4 star:15
  • 3 star:2
  • 2 star:3
  • 1 star:2
1 person listening
Vicky T
2 of 2 found helpful

Saw the play after reading the excellent reviews and with a bit of scepticism regarding whether it could live up to the expectations of such a book (which happens to be one of my favourites). I was pleasantly surprised, as it managed to bring Orwell's world to life and create the strange feeling of inexplicable familiarity with it. Although it started kind of abruptly - meaning that someone who hasn't read the book would struggle to understand what's happening at first - the confusion made connecting with Winston and his feelings easier. Everything became clear afterwards and in combination with the great characters brought to life and a very smartly crafted set that accommodated all the scenes and created excitement with every transition, I could not stay anything but satisfied with the way things were done and accept some moments that didn't feel as strong as the ones in the book since that was only natural.

2 of 2 found helpful

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

Great production, as most reviews described it, but I guess you can’t fully appreciate it (or understand it) with not much beyond the common knowledge of the book. Plus, I’d recommend it not to sit in the upper circle. A good number of scenes are projected in a screen in the back of the stage – you can only see the bottom fourth from up there...

The last thing I would have liked to know before watching it is it gets very graphic towards the end, and it has some intense flashing and sound effects. Someone more sensitive may fell a little ill... Knowing all that, I’d highly recommend it!

movie m
1 of 1 found helpful
Staff Writer

Having heard about 2014’s dismal showings I was extremely apprehensive about seeing this show as a massive fan of the novel I was worried they had ruined it but my fears were uncalled for the show was brilliant they really did Mr Wells proud with the new improved version for 2015. The actors really brought the story alive and made the the audience feel the suffocation and restrictions that this Big Brother society of 84 represents. Don’t want to spoil it for those who aren’t aware of the story but the scene with room 101 is brilliantly done and really hits home the drama of it all and made us leave thinking how far from now this actually is. Heads up though there are no breaks through the show and once you leave re-entry isn’t allowed which is quite unfair as not everyone has bladders of steel. So if you go make sure you go with an empty bladder because you don’t want to miss a thing.

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. 

Tina G

I was rather disappointed by this stage adaptation of one of my favourite books! It's not that the play was particularly bad, but it certainly didn't stand up to my expectations (especially after reading all the reviews) and didn't do justice to the story. I felt there was the whole scope of creative opportunities that were missed, making the play rather dry and flat.

If you want to know the plot and can't be bother to read the book (your loss!), perhaps this is a reasonable alternative. However, to anyone who knows and LOVES Orwell's work, this is a waste of time and money.

Alex W

Always a hard book to put on stage, this was a really challenging and thought-provoking play. The staging is really minimal but really tries to evoke the dystopian future created by Orwell. The play isn't completely along the lines of the book which allows for a bit of creative freedom. This is not exactly your show to take the kids or the visiting inlaws too, but the acting is strong, the dialogue accurate and always conceptually challenging. There's a few moments towards the end where it becomes very cinematic (and graphic). Orwell's book has been consistently copied throughout Hollywood, so its refreshing to see where all these original ideas of big brother and the thought police originally came from.

Peter M

I sat in the dress circle of the Playhouse.....a good position to view the imaginative effects and scenery! It was a little of stumbling start and I do agree with others' comments that the intro could be confusing especially to those who haven't read the fine book or notable film adaptation. I feel though that the typical audience will be folk who are familiar with the story. At times brutal and disturbing the production evolved through some extremely loud noises and bright visual effects backed up by imaginative film effects into the final scenes of horror. Some fine acting and physical movements by the cast and support actors. The adaptation which employs some future date & looking retrospectively at the book was a good plan as was the latitude extended to the torture scenes. Orwell's disturbing novel is as thought provoking as ever and this adaptation is a most worthy effort !

O. Gordon

I have been a huge 1984 fan since reading it at the age of 12. I have seen it staged 3 times by 3 different companies before I saw this performance. Where those previous performances focused so much on the dystopian aspect of Orwell's novel, this production immediately feels more real. The trouble other companies seem to have had is the desire to introduce new techniques to help immerse the audience which actually end up distracting them. 

The book is Orwell's tour de force, the writing so alive, the characters so well built, the premise so tantalisingly close to reality. And that is where this production succeeds. It tells me that story. It follows the book. It does what it needs to do to follow the story and therefore, it is very well done. 


Having, like many who have seen 1984, read the book, I was very intrigued to see just how and if Orwell's foreshadowing could be captured and effectively conveyed. I can confirm this was almost faultlessly done. It was a truly gripping piece of theatre that really brought home the sad reality of corruption in a world that just doesn't seem to have much control over it anymore. What was particularly effective was the chilling antithesis between times of both high energy and then a sudden harsh drop of drollness from the cast. I found that having no interval added to the intensity of the play as it felt that the audience too couldn’t escape from Big Brother. Overall it was a very enjoyable, thought provoking piece of theatre that raises many questions about humanity and society. The task it leaves you with is to not lose hope and to rebel the notion that ‘Freedom is Slavery’.


This is an incredible play with an amazing cast. I can’t remember when I have seen such brilliant acting.

They have a great stage design, fantastic sound and light effects, and the first scene borders on a magic trick, I would say!

I have read the book, so I know what the play was about and it actually helped me to better understand the book. I would say the play might be a little bit difficult to follow and understand for someone how hasn’t read the book.

Jenni D

101 minutes of terrifying entertainment. As any good school kid has done, I'd read the book many moons ago. But seeing the show live left 1984 fully etched in my mind. The production and cast were faultless as you can't help get swept up in this dystopian world. Thought provoking and powerful.


I took my Dad along for one of the preview nights - a perfect Daddy-Daughter evening. Following the severe over-analysis of this book in GCSE English many moons ago, I was worried that I had destroyed the play for myself through my over-zealous highlighting and picking apart of Orwell's language. However, this was quite simply a fantastic production. The acting, the set and the atmosphere were some of the finest I have experienced in Theatreland. It's thought-provoking, terrifying and almost quite believable. There were times that I was wincing and watching through my splayed fingers, feeling Winston's pain and hoping that the Thought Police wouldn't find me in the stalls. A truly great evening. And a good length for a fidget like me. Be prepared to come out of there contemplating your life decisions, realising how lucky you are and also being slightly terrified at what could be.

Carly-Ann Clements
Staff Writer

I saw this during last year’s run and I saw it again this year and it was even better the second time round. I absolutely love the book and before seeing if the first time, I was apprehensive about seeing a live version, I mean really, how can you stage 1984?! Well, they’ve done it beautifully. The trickery and deception is incredible. The story twist to make it a visual story is ingenious. It’s just a really clever and skilled piece of theatre.

I feel as though the cast is stronger this year. The remaining members seem to fill their roles better and the new additions have more stage presence making their story arc more believable and devastating.

The incredible set design still wowed me and the physical exertion of being part of the audience let alone a cast member is quite astounding. 

It’s really lives up to the five star review but if you’re squeamish or easily upset, I would probably really consider seeing this… though you will be missing out.

karen f

This play is a slow burner and wasn't really sure I'd enjoy it, until about half way through when I realise I'm sitting on the edge of my seat, hiding behind my jacket, swearing under my breath at the fact I'm jumping out of my skin every 5 mins. This is a nerve jangler worth seeing - scary and relevant. A must see.

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
Staff Writer

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! 


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.