Theatre, Drama
4 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(57user reviews)
 (© Manuel Harlan)
© Manuel HarlanAndrew Gower
 (© Manuel Harlan)
© Manuel HarlanAngus Wright
 (© Manuel Harlan)
© Manuel Harlan
 (© Manuel Harlan)
© Manuel Harlan

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

This smart, menacing version of George Orwell’s dystopian novel is a shark of a show to find in the pleasureable shallows of the West End. It’s got serious bite, particularly if you happen to be suffering from political cynicism right now. 

George Orwell’s novel tells the story of Winston, an ordinary man living in a post-truth world where people, actions, language and even thoughts are controlled and when necessary deleted by the ruling party and their symbolic leader, Big Brother. Winston tries to rebel against the party and to create and record his inner life and a true record of his times. 

What’s brilliant about writer-directors Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s adaptation is that it’s completely centred on Winston’s increasingly nightmarish experience – and yet it uses that nightmarish state to introduce elements that heighten it and give us, in 2016, access to it from our present. That means that the small, flexible cast double up as academics of the future (which is styled like our past), analysing Winston from the inside of his own story. It also means that the moments that he thinks are most private – when he conducts a love affair in an offstage hideout – are filmed in the hidden camera style of ‘Big Brother’, and relayed to the audience on a big screen.

So many of the ideas in Orwell’s novel have become pop cultural cliches, but this feels fresh, tight, and horrifying. And it’s unlikely to be consigned to room 101 any time soon. ‘1984’ is currently on its third run at the Playhouse Theatre: a deadly chilling piece for dangerous times.

By: Caroline McGinn


Average User Rating

4 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:24
  • 4 star:20
  • 3 star:6
  • 2 star:4
  • 1 star:3
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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.

2 of 2 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.

2 of 2 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.

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!

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.

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.

2 of 3 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 2 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.

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. 

Fully agree with the low rating reviews. 

The play is a mess. especially at the beginning. The acting is OK.. I don't agree with previous harsh critics to the actors per se.. it's more the whole piece.. I didn't find the overall approach to 1984 the book particularly brilliant.

Besides the piece, I also think that the theatre is overly expensive foe the service they offer. very poor quality. II had a massive issue with the light from the ceiling being right on my seat and really compromising my ability to see the stage and enjoy the show.

The stall area was very noisy and although many signs at the entrance said that spectators could not return to their seat if they left during the show, the staff didn't ensure that this was observed and actually numerous people left and came back to their seat, disturbing the view.

I really cannot figure out why a trusted point of view like TimeOut keeps promoting this play... do you guys get commission or something?! 


I have never read the book and just say I had no idea what was going on. The stage was simplistic and the characters spoke a lot of wordy sentences, that not knowing the story line I was unable to follow. At the interval, I read the synopsis and only had a slightly better idea. The ending was abrupt, but the stage and lighting and noises were powerful. Top tips Don't buy upper circle seats- as you can't see the projector and Read the book before hand


People unfamiliar with the original novel will struggle with the initial start of this production. The book club style introduction even confuses those who have read the book. However, once this passes, the basic themes of the novel should become quite apparent, and still ring true in 2016. The explanations of newspeak and the two minutes' hate are fantastic satirical set-pieces. The torture scenes in room 101 are done with chilling effect, and the clash of stage sound light, and gore only add to the nightmarish sequences. The play ends on a slightly more upbeat tone than the book. The play ended to rapturous applause and the commitment by the players on stage was duly appreciated, particularly Winston Smith's character. My only advice is to get seats as low down as possible to get a full unobstructed view of the stage (and to read the book).

I thought that a lot was crammed into a short amount of time which made the play slightly disjointed and chaotic and times. The actors though, were completely committed and definitely held my attention.

As a fan of the book I was curious to see how they would adapt it to a play, never having any experience previously. For the first 30 minutes I was disappointed with the adaptation, having a mix between commentators and the main character didn't flow for me. HOWEVER was this stopped I was immediately drawn in. The way they "exposed" Winston and Julia was very well done. The use of  sounds and lights throughout the play to really capture the audience is at it's peak during the scenes at the Ministry of love. The way they make the audience feel increasingly uncomfortable was brilliant, bringing scenes like the torture in room 101 to a whole other level. I personally felt more connected to Winston in those scenes then in the book. The actor Andrew Gower, who played Winston delivered one of the most powerful performances I have seen in a while. I do feel it is best to have read the book before hand, as I could foresee confusion for those who haven't read it, however the message and the emotional journey that Winston goes on is definitively going to be felt, whether you have full context or not. 

Excellent, must see. Little bit disconcerting and close to reality. Very poignant.

Powerful, but definitely made for fans of the book. If you haven't read the classic you may find it a tad confusing.

Really really good, fantastic production and amazing acting.

Not for someone with epilepsy, the flashing lights are a tad strong

The play begins and ends with a pretentious book club discussion about the book of 1984. This is something which is (obviously, I guess) not in the original novel, is not explained, and seems to serve no purpose but to boost the ego of the play's producers and confuse the audience.

When the dust settles, however, the details of Winston Smith's struggle against authority is powerful and frightening. The production is very intense, theatrically impressive, and Orwell's vision still rings true. Are all the news reports about ISIS a modern day 'two minute hate'?

Overall, it's worth seeing, but with a bit more storytelling it could have been so much better.


One of the best and most intelligent plays I have seen in London so far. I have to admit I have never managed to read Orwell's 1984 but having now seen the theatre adaptation I feel that I can at least fully grasp the tone and terror of the book. Through the clever use of cameras throughout the play, the viewer, in the role of big brother, becomes part of the story. As a result of such brilliant mise-en-scene, 1984 invites no forces you to consider contemporary issues about privacy and freedom of will. An absolute must-see!


1984 is a gripping story about what the world could potentially be like in future (it was written in 1949 and hence was meant to depict the future then). The directing in this production is equally chilling and makes me glad I am not on any form of social media! The acting here is superb and I really get a haunting sense of inevitable dread. The warnings are right about the graphicness and bloodiness of the final scene, and I had to turn away at times, much like many of the others in the audience. Overall it is an extremely talented production of the piece and well worth seeing. Just don’t go expecting a fun and jovial evening...


This brilliantly executed production kept us utterly captivated throughout the 101 minute performance. A great cast, haunting lighting and sound and the strength of the adaptation make this a thoroughly enjoyable night out. Dare you not to love it.


Incredible! I didn't read the book before I watched the production but had a general idea of what it was about. 

The production is very innovative and creatively used every inch of the stage to evoked every emotion and keep you at the edge of your seat. I thoroughly enjoyed the show and would recommend it to anyone who is maybe not easily frightened. I did not see any warnings for the use of flashing lights in the production, but would think anyone suffering from photosensitive epilepsy may want to give this a skip.

Staff WriterStaff Comp

Was not sure what to expect but this play was enthralling, entertaining and disturbing in equal measure. Great use of visual media and strong acting led to a stimulating evening.


Visceral, claustrophobic, intelligent, compelling, 1984 is a truly excellent production. The cast and the set are remarkable. This is a very difficult book to portray the continuing sense of foreboding and eventuality. Without Orwells' narration this ran the risk of under delivering.

However, a solid musical performance as well as the air-tight script keep the pace and intensity up completely. A solid recommendation, you will be entertained. 

Like one reviewer mentions below, I found the loud sounds and lights distressing.  But beyond this, I just didn't find the performances convincing.  In the book there was a plausibility and naturalness lacking in some of the acting--Winston most of the time, and Julia some of the time.  O'Brien was great. Whether this was directing or acting--I can't say.  I found the video to be a welcome addition --this is what the monitoring and propaganda would look like. i would not recommend this.

Staff Writer

I saw this show with the June 2016 cast and Crane's performance of Winston is outstanding and breathtaking! I was a bit worried about how the play would deliver this complex and yet fascinating novel but overall the staging and production were both great. If you are a fan of 1984, this production is not to be missed in 2016...

Very, very effective. Really creates an unsettling atmosphere of suspicion, confusion and uncertainty, making one understand what it might be like to live under Big Brothers watch. I feel the beginning did require one to have read the book (which I have, but, many, many years ago). On the other hand, throwing you in the deep end somehow only makes things even more disconcerting. The camera work was effective and creative and the cast was strong throughout, too. Obviously ‘1984, as they said in the play, always seems relevant no matter when you read it. However this play made it feel more relevant than ever. I. Loved. It.


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.

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.

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 !


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.

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.

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.

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.

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! 

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

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.

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.

0 of 1 found helpful

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

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.

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