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Photograph: Manuel Harlan

George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984 is coming to Broadway in the Trump era

Written by
David Cote

Ever since Donald J. Trump became the president of what is, for now, a great nation, sales for dystopian novels have shot through the roof. Online retail giant Amazon has reported that George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here and political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism are all selling out. We don’t think folks are turning to these classics for escapism.

Seems like a perfect time for 1984 to hit Broadway. Not a song-and-dance extravaganza—although Tim Minchin or David Yazbek could pen a patter number in doublespeak. In fact, a stage version does exist, in London. The Broadway transfer is co-produced by Sonia Friedman and Scott Rudin, with a scheduled opening date of June 22 this summer at Broadway’s newest space, the Hudson Theatre. It will be the first Broadway opening of the 2017–18 season.

Co-creators Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan have created a stylish and dizzying take that frames the novel not as a quaint cautionary tale from 1949 (when Orwell was writing of the dangers of a totalitarian state such as the Soviet Union), but as an actual document that predicted the world in 2050. Suddenly that bleak, soul-crushing future seems a lot more plausible.

This production (originally produced in the UK by Headlong, Nottingham Playhouse and the Almeida Theatre) was not rushed to the stage in the wake of Brexit or the recent American election; it premiered in 2013 at the Nottingham, went to the Almeida in 2014 and then, riding a wave of critical acclaim, transferred to the West End’s Playhouse Theatre. That’s where I saw it in the summer of 2015, impressed by the intense light and sound design, which was both invigorating and disorienting. The action shuttles between past, present and future, making the piece harder to follow than, say, the faithful 1984 screen adaptation that starred the late, great John Hurt. But the material’s no less scarily relevant: surveillance, technology, the total loss of privacy and the corruption of language by government.

The big-league question is, of course, will POTUS attend? I’ve been in the audience with President Obama and Prez Bill Clinton along with candidate Hillary Clinton. But I’m not holding my breath with this one.  

Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote       

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