For a third consecutive year, the radical adaptation of 1984 from Headlong, the Almeida and Nottingham Playhouse comes back to the West End. The adaptation of George Orwell’s 1949 novel continues to thrill audiences, with its tickets one of the hottest available on the West End this summer.
Whether or not this is a good thing or not, however, remains to be seen. The production is incredible: you are Big Brother, watching Winston and Gloria start their revolution before it is torn down around them. There is no escape for the lovers: even in the perceived safety of an unwatched room in the back of a shop, their every movement is watched by the Thought Police, unbeknownst to them.
Orwell’s novel and this subsequent adaptation, by Olivier Award winning director Rob Icke and Duncan MacMillan, create a world entrenched in fear, lies and surveillance. The horrors of Room 101 oppress the 99% proletariat, destroying any hopes of a positive future.
This is theatrical escapism at its most poignant: in a bitter irony, theatregoers will flock to the Playhouse Theatre to watch a show which reflects more of their life than they realise. Already CCTV cameras watch our every move, and a webcam on your PC can be hacked to provide constant surveillance.
Edward Snowden’s revelations remain poignant when we consider simply how much information the establishment security services hold on the individual. Organisations like the NSA and GCHQ retain in existence, gathering vast amounts of information about people who are often of no danger. These groups mirror the Thought Police in the sense that they can build an immensely detailed picture of a person without having ever seen them.
Audience members go to see 1984 with the intention of seeing a dictatorial society ruled by a Gestapo style body who ruthlessly maintain order by fear, intimidation and punishment. Instead, they see a series of mirrors riddled onto the stage of their own society. And that means 1984 remains a sell-out hit: as long it is relevant to our real lives, people will continue to watch, and rightly so. 1984, whilst brutal and uncompromising, is essential and necessary for all audiences to see, to appreciate the true nature of information and its management in our own society.
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