As a massive fan of gripping thriller stories, I was already a fan of the story of 1984 before I entered the theatre. Twisted dystopian fiction is a genre that has always fascinated me and considering that I’d missed catching 1984 both times beforehand, I was surprised to see that this production still felt modern and fresh as though it was the show’s first time around. It was creepy, edge-of-your-seat tense and unnerving all at the same time and it’s nothing quite like anything else I have ever seen in the West End.
The story is based on the iconic novel by George Orwell about a man who is trapped in Airstrip One (formerly Great Britain) and is trying to escape the corrupt government who are manipulating the public to do exactly what they want them to do through the eyes of Big Brother, which is where the reality television show names comes from. Along the way, he finds love in a woman and pays the price for betraying the government, with an ending so twisted and slightly off-putting that it left me feeling uncomfortable for the rest of the evening; it’s incredibly well written.
Being Human favourite Andrew Gower takes on the lead role of Winston with perfection, being suitably nervous and intense where appropriate. His character was only slightly relatable, which was a bold artistic decision I think; he could have just as easily made the character someone all of the audience could feel involved with throughout the show, but it felt as though he was one of us and then torn away from us all under one breath which just added to the intensity of the piece. Doctor Who star Catrin Stewart took on the role of Julia with even more complexity because not only was her character supposed to be sincere and loving, but she was also meant to be really odd and off-the-wall. Stewart handled it perfectly and was delightful to watch.
The design of the show was interesting as well. The play is obviously set in 1984, but the show’s set for the start of the show felt very much like a stately home which was then repurposed to be a meeting room, a bookshop and a cafeteria. When the set was removed to become the government headquarters though, it had this hyper-modern feel to it, a mix between a 21st century hospital and a Star Trek idea of what modern is going to be like. It was cool and felt much more retro than it did dated. I also liked how a lot of scenes that look place in Winston’s bedroom were simply projected videos/live feeds (I didn’t manage to work out which) so that you felt as though you were watching his goings on from the perspective of Big Brother. It was well thought out and it was surprisingly enjoyable, considering it was just like being suddenly made to watch a movie.
It’s no surprise this show is so good though. Having been adapted for the stage by Duncan Macmillan and Headlong, it was a show that was destined for greatness before it was even originally mounted; the two paired together continue to make perfect work like People, Places and Things among other shows and I’m sure they’ll make more cutting edge theatre just like this in the future.
All in all, 1984 at the Playhouse Theatre is a fantastic piece of thriller theatre is you love to watch gripping and sociopathic films and television shows like The Purge or Pretty Little Liars. It’s a plot full of fantastic plot twists and turns and a 90-minute-straight piece that is well worth your time.
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