Thursday 6 March 2014


Almeida Theatre, London


By George Orwell
Adapted and created by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan

Mark Arends, (centre seated) and Company

This adaptation by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan of George Orwell's chillingly prescient classic, respects the story and its 65 year old heritage, yet gives it a disturbing relevance that speaks to our 21st century lives.

One wonders what Orwell would make of today’s multi-lane information superhighway. A world in which millions of digital fingerprints are left every day, creating a priceless seam of data to be mined or exploited by governments, corporations and bandits able to reach beyond the always outmoded and feeble data protection legislation. And that’s just here in the free West. Elsewhere dictatorships and fundamentalists across a spectrum of political and religious extremes tragically perpetuate the evils that Orwell’s oft quoted dystopian hell sought to mimic.

The Almeida’s co-production with Headlong and the Nottingham Playhouse is vivid and perceptive. Chloe Lamford’s set design shows meticulous detail in depicting Winston Smith’s world, details that literally fall away after his arrest, with the stark screened whiteness of Room 101 being so bleak that Smith’s blood, shed during harrowing torture scenes, provides a shocking splash of colour. Ingeniously Lamford deploys large video screens across every scene, graphically promoting the reality that Big Brother is watching everything.

Mark Arends’ Smith embodies the flawed everyman that Orwell intended and his grappling with desire, love and betrayal, against a backdrop of the pernicious Thought Police is as plausible as is his pain during torture that is almost unbearable to witness. Onstage throughout the single act 100 minute play, his performance is a flawless demonstration of his craft. Provoking and breaking Smith, Tim Dutton’s O’Brien is almost a cliché, were it not that the spook he represents is just so believably manipulative. Hara Yannas’ Julia, who loves Smith and yet who betrays him, as he betrays her under duress, gets the balance spot on in her character’s ambiguity.

Deservedly sold out, the play holds a mirror to our fractured world. That our democratic society provides a forum in which theatre such as 1984, together with the political debate it sparks, can thrive, is a liberty that in itself should be cherished. In far too many nations, the worst aspects of Orwell’s grim fantasy remain a terrible reality. 

Runs to 29th March 2014

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