Surprisingly, for someone who considers herself a longtime fan of dystopian drama, this is the first theatrical production of that genre I have seen. The long wait certainly made for a build up of expectation, but Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillan’s adaptation of Orwell’s classic didn’t disappoint in the slightest.
Of all the books I read at school as part of English Literature studies, 1984 was the one which has stayed with me since. Perhaps that reveals an oddity of my character, but I actually found something very comforting in the bleakness and hopelessness of the situation. I far prefer a story with an anti-hero – it’s closer to reality.
The play takes an interesting turn of starting with the appendix of the novel – the principles of newspeak, and the debate over the authenticity of Winston’s diaries, before casting us back to clocks striking thirteen and the like.
Matthew Spencer is superb in the lead role – a perfect blend of a rebellious nature coupled with a crippling lack of hope in change. His minor acts of rebellion give him reason to live, because he knows deep down he is destined to die, and Spencer portrays this to great effect.
The play is performed as a pacey one-act piece, which definitely helps build the tense atmosphere. The speediness of the production, coupled with the disturbingly repetitive cafeteria scenes, illustrating the process of someone becoming an unperson, makes for compelling viewing of scenes which on the surface would seem unimportant.
The production climaxes with infamous Room 101 scene, with stunning visuals and blackouts produce a harrowing effect. Just enough suggestion of violence in between the bouts of darkness gave a real feeling that you had genuinely witnessed a graphic depiction of the tortures contained within. Skillful and effective, and a real success story of bringing Orwell’s vision to life.