1984 Play Review


Adapted by Robert Icke, Duncan Macmillan
Set Design by Chloe Lamford
Starring Sam Carne, Hara Yannas

I read Nineteen Eighty-Four when I was around fourteen. I felt the book to be perfect despite its imperfections, beautiful despite the ugliness it depicted and deeply comforting despite its haunting themes. I’ve read it many times over the past decade or so, even basing my dissertation on it at university. I also hold it solely responsible for my dystopian obsession and the creation of this website. I know it’s not very inventive or original to dub Nineteen Eighty-Four the best dystopian novel ever written but to me it encapsulates everything wonderful about the genre.

So as you can imagine, when I discovered that this masterpiece had been adapted into a West End play I felt I had to see it.

Justifiably I had a lot of reservations once I had bought the tickets. I had no idea how they could present such complex ideas in an hour and forty minute stage production and, as I have a lot of affection for the book, I was worried that it would somehow ruin it for me if the play was badly constructed. The reviews I had read were positive, however, so I felt that even if it wasn’t to my taste it would be an interesting approach to the plot.

The adaptation is based around the idea that Big Brother had been in power for a very short period in history before the regime was rebelled against and broken. In the opening scene men and women are discussing the novel as if it were part fiction and part factual text written by Winston himself. This discussion begins to fade from reality and mingle in with scenes from the novel itself until we are eventually back in time following Winston as he leaves his shift at the Ministry of Truth.

At first I was a bit taken aback by this book club discussion digressing from reality and diving headfirst into Winston’s perspective, but once I had got used to the concept I felt it worked really well. It didn’t complicate things or seem awkward or clumsy in any way, and it was an interesting angle that I had not considered before.

After this initial scene the rest of the play was fairly faithful to the book, using a lot of direct quotes and in some cases relaying conversations from the book word-for-word. Icke and Macmillan did an incredible job of this, especially considering what a daunting task it must have been.

The highlight for me had to be the set design. The use of sound and light to confuse the audience and give a sense of panic, claustrophobia and lack of privacy was amazingly well done. It was a relatively small stage but they managed so much with it. There was also limited props but the captivating script and ingenious set design fleshed out the scenes wonderfully.

I did feel that the actor playing Winston was too young and attractive from what I had imagined the character to be like but I suppose that’s the problem with watching adaptations of novels…they are never exactly as you want them to be. I also felt the repetition of the Oranges and Lemon nursery rhyme to be a bit tiresome – a bit more cliched than creepy.

Overall I was very happy (and grateful) to be surprised by this great production. It had been altered enough to make it seem fresh but was respectful enough to let Orwell’s original words shine through. A definite must for all lovers of the novel, although those who have not read it or have not read it recently might struggle to keep up with it (not that I care about those people, they’re idiots).

Well, never have I been more relieved to be able to write a positive review…

E.J. Babb created Dystopic in 2012 after requiring an outlet for her love of dystopian and apocalyptic fiction. She is the author of These Unnatural Men, FOREGROUND and The Festivities of Morkwood.

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