Review: 1984

Dan Wood 5 February 2014

The stage adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 is a classic tale of a nightmarish future in which "The Party" oppresses the British population not only physically, but in their perception of reality – doublethink is encouraged, a state of mind in which 2+2 = 5 and history can be changed if "The Party" wills it to be so.

The play gets an instant head start in constructing this chilling world by virtue of its excellent set design. It is stark and minimalist throughout, with blossom falling from the ceiling or bric-a-brac suspended on wires in mid-air giving us a convincing forest clearing and junk shop respectively. A particular highlight were piles of televisions on either side of the stage, broadcasting the sinister Party propaganda but often showing the actions on stage, giving an impression of the characters always being watched, as well as a small poster of Big Brother cleverly appearing and disappearing on pieces of scenery.

The action begins with Winston Smith, a middle ranking party member (Jackson Caines), taking us through his world as he begins to question the endless hatred, violence and contradictions underlying everything.

The world is fleshed out by a commendable supporting cast, with Rose Reade deserving particular praise for her portrayal of the lexicographer Syme – a very loyal intellectual who still nevertheless becomes an "unperson" because she is thinking too much. Winston’s rebellion takes the form of an illicit affair with the hedonistic "rebel from the waist downwards". Julia, who was convincingly played by Nisha Emich in what was probably the stand out performance in the piece. In a somewhat underwhelming scene, they are suddenly captured by the thought police who had known of their affair all along, and subjected to a rather hit-and-miss batch of stage violence.

The removal of fingernails or drowning in a bucket had audience members squirming in their seats, but a series of silent stage punches and kicks did not quite convince, and the electrocution scene where the wires couldn’t actually be attached to Winston fell particularly flat.

This last leg of the play was not quite horrifying and depressing enough: O’Brien (Jack Ranson) had an excellent velvet glove, but the iron fist could have used a bit more tempering – although room 101 went some way to redeeming this. Entertaining and worth seeing, but I felt depression rather than oppression. A mere technicality perhaps, but people do get vaporised for less.