1984, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, is a once futuristic title that has now itself become a date that has come and long gone. But in the aftermath of the unprecedented mass state surveillance exposed by Edward Snowden and the culture of state-sanctioned torture revealed at Guantanamo Bay, 1984 remains uncompromisingly prescient.
Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s theatrical version, by turns disorientating and disconcerting, remains a marvel of theatrical inventiveness and chilling, sometimes thrilling, power. It vividly creates context as a book club gathers to discuss the issues thrown up by it, and then proceeds to show them in a dystopian but all-too-recognisable landscape.
The narrative, as we follow the harrowing journey of Winston Smith as his very thoughts incriminate him and the state seeks to intervene, punish and retrain those thoughtcrimes, is told in an impressionistic, fragmentary and jolting series of scenes, full of frazzled lighting effects and graphic interventions.
The result is not always easy to watch, but impossible to look away from. Originated at Nottingham Playhouse and the Almeida in a Headlong co-production in 2013, Icke and Macmillan’s staging has previously played an extended West End season at the Playhouse in 2014. Now, as it returns to the same address for another summer season, it remains challenging, surprising West End fare, and a stunning ensemble cast led by Matthew Spencer’s anguished Winston, bring a fierce and riveting commitment to it.
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