REVIEW: 1984, Playhouse Theatre ✭✭✭✭

1984 by George Orwell at the Playhouse Theatre

Playhouse Theatre
18 June 2015
4 Stars
Reviewed by James Garden

1984 is a complicated novel—even more complicated by the fact that Orwell adds a supposedly “anonymous” appendix about Newspeak after the main action of the book—something that many readers frequently gloss over, and forget. Yet it is this appendix that adapter/directors Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan slaved over to find the voice of their fresh new adaptation of the classic novel, now remounted at the Playhouse Theatre for a limited time.

Despite being highly stylized, and some might say overproduced, with flashing lights, live video projections, and all sorts of bells and whistles, this production’s elements all come together to create an utterly disturbing and authentic stage retelling of the book every young teenager read to feel brooding. Yet, even then, as soon as they put it down, every teenager who wanted to feel brooding was forever changed. And this production is true to that ethos.

Matthew Spencer plays an unforgettably electrifying Winston, equally matched by the wonderful Janine Harouni as Julia. Tim Dutton’s O’Brien is nightmare inducing in the best possible way—one almost wishes he could be inserted into the Matrix movies superimposed on Agent Smith. Watching the two-hander in Room 101, I was instantly transported back to my 13 year old bedroom at 3 am, terrified yet unable to look away from Orwell’s text.

Equally, there is no member of the broader ensemble that isn’t perfectly cast.

There is unfortunately one aspect of the production, though, that leaves something to be fundamentally desired, that is, there are times it needs to get out of its own way, lest it become too preachy.

Flashing the word “AUSTERITY” across a projection about Big Brother is superfluous. The adaptation and performances speak enough for themselves that sometimes the video projections just try a little too hard to shout “SEE THIS PLAY IS TOTALLY RELEVENT TO YOU EVEN IN 2015.”

Similarly, in the “book club” that frames the production, if one can call it that, there’s just slightly too much on the nose “knowing” dialogue. This is not a piece that requires “nudge nudge wink wink say no more” and there is a danger that it goes there one too many times. We don’t need as much help to see this production’s genius as it thinks we might.

Nevertheless, this production is a modern masterpiece.

Get your tickets now, before they take you to Room 101


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