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  • Theatre, Immersive
1984, Hackney Town Hall, 2023
Photo: The Other Richard

Time Out says

Hackney Town Hall is a stunning setting for a bland immersive take on Orwell’s masterpiece

Choosing the right location is half the struggle for an immersive theatre show. And the stunning art deco Hackney Town Hall is a magnificent and period-appropriate backdrop to Adam Taub’s adaptation of Orwell’s immortal totalitarian satire ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’.

Unfortunately, the other half of the battle is still making a great play, and here’s where Jem Wall and Richard Hahlo’s production falls down. It begins with us taking an ‘entrance exam’ for the Ministry of Truth, which takes up 20 minutes or so before Jude Akuwudike‘s O’Brien shows us surveillance footage of Declan Rodgers’s Winston and Kit Reeves’s Julia having an illicit affair – in defiance of the aggressively asexual society of this Britain, now part of a totalitarian superstate named Oceania.

Seeing the events of the novel from the state perspective is an interesting idea, but we’re never meaningfully indoctrinated into the ways of Big Brother and The Party. Really we’re just watching a version of the novel edited down to three short scenes, with a little bit of immersive gimmickry thrown in. It’s far too short to convey the novel’s power, and as much as anything, the fact we immediately know The Party is onto Winston and Julia robs it of dramatic tension. 

The actors are solid, and Akuwudike does a heroic job as O’Brien, both fulfilling his role in the book and handling the lion’s share of the audience interaction. But it’s all too glancing. You would never adapt ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ into a play this brief if it was a conventional staging. The fact it’s immersive – ie we take a short exam and shuttle between a couple of rooms – doesn’t magically compensate for that. 

Compared to Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s pulverisingly brilliant take on the book – which had three West End seasons not so long ago – this is mild stuff, so bland as to virtually be Party propaganda.

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski


Event website:
£15-£35. Runs 1hr 15min
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