As a big fan of George Orwell’s classic novel 1984, and the later John Hurt starring film adaptation, it is safe to say that I was rather looking forward to catching this latest stage version from the team a Nottingham Playhouse.
For those not familiar with the book, if said people exist, 1984 is a somewhat distopian tale in which the former Great Britain is now a world controlled by constant surveillance led by Big Brother and where all independent thought is banned. There are many people who draw parellels between the novel and the modern day in which we seem to be under the ever increasing eye of surveillance – whether it be from CCTV cameras (Britain being the capital of the world for these) or “spying” by our secret services.
The story of 1984 is based around Winston Smith (played in this adaptation by Mark Arends) a worker at the Ministry of Truth who secretly despises the ruling parties and dreams of rebelling against Big Brother. Harra Yannas takes on the role of Julia, Winston’s love interest, and the two of them deliver strong performances. A particular stand out scene saw the pair, mad with passion, destroying every paper regarding Big Brother – which even led to a box lid flying out into the audience.
Of course things do not run smoothly and there are some truly horrific moments that had me hugging my hoodie (and not in a David Cameron sense), which is exactly what you want from a play, one of the biggest joys of watching a performance in stage is when it draws you in so that you feel the emotion running through the cast – and 1984 certainly did that. In particular the Room 101 scenes were delivered with an intensity that was hard to watch with finger tips being removed, teeth pulled and, of course, the famous moment when a mask holding the rat cage is placed over Winston’s face. That this torture leads to the ultimate of betrayals on part of the characters makes it even more moving.
As a fan of the book I was keen to see how they would adapt it, and I am pleased to say they did a great job condensing down the tale into a wonderful story that kept you gripped – it was also the first time the appendix from the book was used as part of the story offering something different. Though a fan of the film I have to say this play felt like a much truer adaptation of Orwell’s masterpiece.
Fans of Orwell will be thrilled by this telling of his work while even those who haven’t read the book – and they are out there, apparently this book is the one, more than any other, that people claim to have read when they haven’t! – you will still find much to enjoy from a tense, thrilling story of a man determined to think for himself.
Review by Geri Patterson