Play review – 1984

Date: 22 June 2016, 14:30
Venue: The Playhouse, London
Director: Robery Icke & Duncan Macmillan

I had heard many great things about this play but unfortunately missed out on tickets the last time it was in London. So, when I found out it was coming back I immediately got tickets to see what everyone has been talking about.

The portrayal of the story was great, even if the book club to frame the narrative was a little confusing at first. The book club made so much sense by the end of the play and it was a great note to end it on, which meant I could forgive it for slowing down the beginning of the play.

I love how there was such a small cast because when something happened to a character it was a lot more noticeable. In addition as there was a small cast most of the characters had to double up as the Thought Police which I thought added a lot to the plot and emphasised how you didn’t know who to trust in this society.

The cast were great, I found Andrew Gower’s Winston more likeable in the play than the Winston in the novel. He even seemed somewhat childlike at times in his understanding of things, which was a very interested contrast to Julia’s (Catrin Stewart) bluntness which definitely seemed to drive the relationship. For me though, O’Brien (Angus Wright) was the best performance in the play. He was very unsettling and exactly how I always imagined O’Brien to be, just his mere presence and stern facial expression was enough to have me on edge.

In particular the acting in the ‘Room 101’ scenes was very distressing. The torture scenes are quick with brutal results allowing your imagination to fill in the brief violent blackouts. The entire scene is mentally taxing as it’s drawn out with slow and careful dialogue. It was a very powerful scene which focused more on playing with Winston’s mental state rather than the violence which was very effective, especially for a theatre setting.

Despite how great the cast was I felt that the set and the intimate stage really made the play. They made the small stage work well to their advantage, there was a story of 3D feeling to the set where you could see characters walk past the ‘room’ the scene was taking place or just stare into the foreground of the stage. The fact that the screen took up a third of the stage, at the top, added to the feeling of the stage coming out into the audience and felt very imposing – which heightened the experience of the two minutes hate.

I thought it was very clever in the way they presented Winston and Julia’s secret meetings, by having them offstage and streaming it through the big screen. It made their meetings feel more secret and intimate. I thought it also put the audience in an interesting position as you’re not quite passively watching as you have been, you almost feel like you’re participating as the Thought Police by watching their meetings on a screen rather than organically on the stage.

Overall, I’ve never been that on edge during a theatre production. I felt uncomfortable throughout the whole performance and was curled up in my seat – waiting for the next blackout or klaxon or crash dispersed between the scenes. However despite feeling this whilst I was watching it, once the play was over I could fully appreciate and enjoy what I witnessed. Thinking about it, if I hadn’t felt on edge during a performance of 1984 then it wouldn’t have been done right. You’re not supposed to feel comfortable in this society and they presented that wonderfully.

Rating: 4.5/5

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