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Nineteen Eighty-Four: Doublethink, eulogistic and fear-provoking

Andrew Gower in1984 credit Manuel Harlan

Extended until the 29th October, George Orwell’s masterpiece, 1984, is adapted by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan. Co-produced between the Almeida, the Headlong and the Nottingham Playhouse, this performance could actually be a movie. A contemporary play with real cinematographic techniques on stage. It feels like someone is pressing play, rewind and pause even.

The set is classical, wooden furniture, books on the wall and a corridor at the back with curious windows: they get blurry but they do become clear to reveal the silhouette of characters now and then. When the play starts, Andrew Gower, who plays Winston Smith, is sitting at the end of a dining table. He has a notebook and his desk lamp is a camera too. A projection on a huge screen shows what Winston is writing: Today’s date. He adds 1984.

The ‘film’ is ready to start. Quite fast, the spectator will understand that he has no control on the play’s rhythm. An imbroglio of light, sound and video dissonance are part of the adaptation. An impressive work that we respectively owe to Natasha Chivers, Tom Gibbons and Tim Reid. These narration breaks are leading the story. The first rupture intervenes only a few minutes after the start. Obscurity with a very loud sound quivering will shake the audience for a short moment, the set doesn’t change at this stage but characters are discovered for the first time. Later, when the spectator is not discomforted by random sound, sequences, George Orwell’s maxims are terrifying. ‘War is peace’, ‘Freedom is slavery’ ‘Ignorance is strength’.

Big Brother and the over-surveillance, politics and obedience but also torture are approached with a horrifying reality.

‘Winston Smith: Does Big Brother exist?

O'Brien: Of course he exists.

Winston Smith: Does he exist like you or me?

O'Brien: You do not exist.

Love between Winston and Julia, interpreted by Andrew Gower and Catrin Stewart, will not be sufficient because torture provokes betrayal.

1984 in 2016 raises many questions about what’s in the news: terrorism, propaganda, public manipulation. We are being watched today through various channels. Which is why distinction between Orwell’s dystopia and our reality has never been so thin. 1984 has a tense ambiance throughout the show, one hour and forty minutes without intervals with an audience often scared of what might happen next. Leaving no one indifferent, 1984 is again this time shaking our senses with remarkable actors.

@PlayhouseTheatre @London

photo: Andrew Gower in1984 credit Manuel Harlan

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