Review: 1984 At The Playhouse Theatre, An Innovative And Entirely Unique Play
| By Harriet Wilson
Now showing at the Playhouse Theatre, 1984 will put you on edge from start to finish, making you feel inexplicably nervous throughout, and you will leave with a whole array of questions buzzing in your mind: where is the line between reasonable and unreasonable levels of censorship; what if totalitarianism did combine so effectively with technology; who wrote this story? However you look at it, 1984 is not a play for the sake of being a play – it has been constructed to explore wide, and uncomfortably relevant, issues. It left me utterly confused.
It is only fair to say that 1984 would not be for everyone. If you enjoy being pushed a little past the edge of your comfort zone, having your emotions toyed with, and being made to question fundamental issues, then this play will be perfect for you. If you prefer to leave a play behind when you leave the theatre, then perhaps look elsewhere. This production is guaranteed to make you nervous, tense, and thoughtful – all at once. It is extremely intense.
It is hard to know where to start when talking about a play as unique and impressive as 1984, but the first thing to mention has to be its complex and abstract style. 1984, in fact, seemed rather driven by style, which suited the story extremely well. It was continuously invasive; the audience was not allowed to relax for a single moment. Considering the predominant issue of surveillance within the play (Big Brother is watching you), this seemed entirely appropriate. Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan, who adapted and directed this adaptation, created a perfectly terrifying atmosphere.
Also fitting was the abstract and, at times, confusing presentation of the story itself. It was never entirely clear whether Winston, our protagonist, was dreaming, or imagining things, or whether what we saw was reality. There was a sinister repetition prevalent throughout – numerous statements or questions became motifs, voiced by different characters and carrying different meanings each time: where do you think you are, Winston? This created an exceptionally eerie and disorientating atmosphere. It made the audience feel almost vulnerable – again, this suited perfectly the themes and issues presented by 1984.
Lighting and sound played a key part in unsettling the audience. For nearly the entirely of the performance, an almost imperceptible whining noise in the background substantially increased the intensity of the atmosphere; similarly, the theatre was always either a little too dark, or painfully light. The audience was somewhat lit up for a large proportion of the 101 minute long play; when, at times, all lights went out and all sound stopped, the darkness and silence were almost unbearable.
Based on the novel by George Orwell, 1984 kept nicely in line with the book. Mainly, this was because the style of the play reflected the abstract way in which Orwell's novel was written. There were lots of enjoyable allusions to the book; at the beginning, for example, church-bells were heard ringing, drawing out a theme from the book itself. It is not, however, necessary in any way to read the book in order to fully appreciate the play.
One thing that stood out as particularly impressive was the incredible attention to detail. The more you looked, the more you found. At one point, for example, the clock stopped at 1:01, bringing Room 101 into the audience's minds before it had even been dwelt upon. Every aspect of the play had been minutely thought through, and this made the it extremely compelling.
The 1984 cast were all extremely strong. Matthew Spencer played the demanding character of Winston exceptionally well. His complex and confused emotions were clear to the audience from start to finish. Similarly, Janine Harouni made a fabulously memorable professional stage debut as Julia. Again, the portrayal of an intricate character was flawless. Harouni seamlessly went from appearing sinister and cold to likeable and passionate.
Tim Dutton, playing O'Brien, came across as appropriately smooth and manipulative. The great thing about Dutton's performance was how likeable O'Brien seemed – not just at first, but even towards the end of the play. Gavin Spokes and Mandi Symonds made a very convincing Mr and Mrs Parsons, drawing the audience equally into their devastating flaws and their very real, relatable, personalities. The rest of the cast carried the performance with vigour and eloquence. There were all superb at appearing both sinister and personable – a factor on which the play rested.
1984 is at the Playhouse Theatre, London, until 5th September 2015. If you want to see something that will really make you think, you must see this play.