Innovative, intelligent, and in places, nail bitingly scary. These are just a few of the many words to describe the refreshing, new production of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel, 1984. The production grapples with the complex ideologies that the novel presents, such as Newspeak and doublethink, with incredible skill and intelligence – which is no mean feat – all the while leaving the audience frozen to their seats in a state of tension and frightful anticipation.
For those that are not familiar with Orwell’s novel, 1984 follows Winston Smith (played by Matthew Spencer), a man struggling in a world controlled by Big Brother. Where a mere thought is a punishable crime, surveillance is everywhere, and the past can be rewritten and deleted in the blink of an eye, Winston does the unthinkable; he starts a diary and falls in love.
“1984 constantly makes both Winston and the audience question what is real and what is not”
Due to the ingenious way the show has been constructed, the repeated line ‘Winston, where do you think you are?’ forces the audience to ask themselves the very same question. Switching from place to place, from past to future, while bookended by a group of people in the future discussing the diary, 1984 constantly makes both Winston and the audience question what is real and what is not. The Orwellian concept of doublethink; the idea of having two contradictory beliefs and believing both to be correct, is here presented at its most chilling. Doubting the reality of what you see before you, we are thrown into a state of disorientation, an effect which is amplified by the brilliant use of sound and blinding flashes of light. The excellent and eerily creepy repeated scenes are also effective in this goal; the exact repetitions, right down to the choreography, emphasises exactly how the Party allows no past, no future and no memory.
The subversive love story between Winston and Julia (played by Janine Harouni) is also explored in great detail and the performance between the two actors is strong throughout. Julia is depicted exactly how she can be pictured from the novel: beautiful, sensuous, ruthless, and selfish. Winston is a more complex character with a fragile nervous disposition that seemingly blossoms into something stronger through his love for Julia. Together Spencer and Harouni depict the strong sexual chemistry that exists between the characters, that is made all the more intense by its forbidden nature. Winston and Julia’s defiance of Big Brother and the Party through their love is complicated, rich in emotion and makes for excellent viewing.
“The scene in Room 101 is the scene that possesses some of the most gripping performances of the production”
The staging of this show and the scene transitions have got to be some of the best and most exciting I have ever seen in any production. With surveillance being a key element of the plot, the use of video on stage is brilliant and clever; a pinnacle moment being the live action projection from a secret room behind the main set that puts the audience in the position of Big Brother, watching Winston’s every move. The transition to the dreaded Room 101 is one of the best, most climactic parts of the production, where the drab world that the original set presents is quite literally ripped away, and inspires genuine emotions of terror.
The scene in Room 101 is the scene that possesses some of the most gripping performances of the production. Spencer’s performance is particularly strong in this scene where the character is forced to face what Room 101 is infamous for containing – the worst thing in the world. Tim Dutton, who plays O’Brien, also strikes as a powerful and sinister figure in this scene. Everything about it is tense and uncomfortable, from the blank stark walls of the dystopian torture chamber, the terrifying performances, jarring lights and sound, and gruesome effects; we as the audience hold our collective breath throughout.
‘Where do you think you are?’ As the performance comes to a close we can’t be sure about anything. Was Winston real? Did Big Brother even exist? Does 2 + 2 really make 4? Only one thing is clear; this production of 1984 is the best piece of theatre I have seen in a long time. Gritty, intelligent and exciting ,I would highly recommend watching this show. And who knows? Big Brother might be watching you right back.
1984 is running at Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 26th October. For more information, see here.