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.
Average User Rating
4.1 / 5
- 5 star:24
- 4 star:20
- 3 star:6
- 2 star:4
- 1 star:2
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tries to be very clever, but fails at many of the basics in the process. Underpowered performances, lacklustre direction and a messy script.
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.
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?!
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.
Wonderful play, wrote a full review on my blog: https://worldoflittleana.wordpress.com/2016/08/10/1984-george-orwell-play-playhouse-theatre-london/
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.
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.
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.
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 !
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.
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!
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.
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!
Incredibly intense, and a stunning sensory experience. Standout performances from Sam Crane and Tim Dutton. Watch it and weep.