Originally a novel by George Orwell, this production of 1984 has been adapted by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan. The plot follows Winston Smith, a man discovering and rebelling against the totalitarian dictatorship that grips the world and his home town of London. 1984 is a world where people can be erased from all historical records, the crime of speaking against the government is punishable with death and the illusive Big Brother is always watching.
Despite reservations about adapting such a well-known novel into a play, this production not only stayed true to the tone and themes of the novel but intensified the horror of Orwell’s imagined world of 1984. The production did this to such a degree that at times it was difficult to watch. As well as seeing the ordeals that Winston faces in 1984, you felt as if you were becoming part of them yourself. It is a credit to the outstanding acting ability of the cast that enabled such atmosphere and emotion to be created throughout the audience.
This is especially true with Mark Arends’ remarkable performance as Winston Smith. His characterization and physicality showed Winston as vulnerable yet his deliverance of speech brought a strong and wilful side to Winston, the side that was ready to fight the oppression no matter what cost. Tim Dutton also gave a chilling performance as bureaucrat villain, O’Brien.
The acting and staging was particularly impressive during the torture of Winston in Room 101. As the lights went up throughout the theatre, the audience were fully aware of each other and their reactions to the horrific scene that unfolded onstage. Arends’ movement and reactions to the torture was outstandingly believable which made it even more uncomfortable yet the audience remained completely fixated. It was ‘Theatre of Cruelty’; witnessing something so horrific that it is impossible to stop watching, it made for a fantastic piece of theatre and very true to the novel.
The set emphasised the theme of surveillance with windows at the back of the stage allowing ever watchful eyes to view Winston. Also, the use of film and projection was extremely effective in continuing this theme and was used incredibly to intensify scenes by screening the characters from different angles.
This production of 1984 cannot be recommended enough. It is an intense theatrical experience and it is the incredible talent of the production team and actors that make the show have such an impact on its audience.
1984 is showing at the Liverpool Playhouse until Saturday 2nd November. Tickets start from £12 and can be bought from the website.