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First Published 9 May 2014, Last Updated 6 August 2014

What’s it all about?

This Olivier Award nominated production gives George Orwell’s novel about government surveillance a unique twist, playing with notions of time and reality to create an ambiguous and intriguing take on the 20th century classic.

The action focuses on a group of people analysing a text. The individuals appear not only to be members of the Party scrutinising it for its rebellion against Big Brother, but also attendees of a book group examining the work as a piece of historical fiction.

The reason for framing the tale in this way is down to the novel’s appendix, on which creators Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan have based their production to give it a different – and more theatrical – edge.

Who’s in it?

Sam Crane replaces Mark Arends as Winston in the West End transfer of this Almeida Theatre, Headlong and Nottingham Playhouse co-production. The actor gives an arresting performance as a man fighting his descent into madness, constantly striving to holding on to the truth – and his sanity – as he is faced with a confusing world that blurs his perception of reality. There is good support, too, from the show’s original cast members; Hara Yannas gives an electric performance as Winston’s seductive lover Julia, while Tim Dutton is cold and menacing as O’Brien.

What should I look out for?

Chloe Lamford’s designs, which incorporate striking video projections into a drab office-like setting, and scenes of torture to rival the work of Jack Bauer.

Who was in the press night crowd?

Actor Neil Pearson and directors Thea Sharrock and Lucy Bailey were among the recognisable faces in the audience.

Just as notable was the diverse age range of those in attendance, which pays testament not only to the wide appeal of the book but also to the timelessness of the tale, which resonates as much today as it did more than six decades ago.

In a nutshell?

Orwell’s tale remains terrifyingly timely in Icke and Macmillan’s vivid and intriguing take on the classic.

What’s being said on Twitter?

‏@amz_craig Wonderful cast of 1984 at the Playhouse this eve! A must see although not for the faint hearted!

@optimistlondon Everything you’ve heard is true: @HeadlongTheatre’s adaptation of 1984 is every bit as powerful and compelling as you’d hope it would be.

Will I like it?

In an interview published in the show programme, Macmillan talks about his intention to make the production appeal to a 15-year-old who has never read the book while satisfying the scholar who has read it 100 times. I fit more into the first category and was more than satisfied, but given that this is such a fresh and unique version of the classic I would imagine that avid readers of the novel would be satisfied too.

1984 is playing at the Playhouse Theatre until 19 July. You can book tickets through us.


1984 originally played at the Almeida Theatre in February 2014 when the following First Night Feature by Matthew Amer was published

What’s it all about?

It’s George Orwell’s influential tale of life in a world of extreme governmental control where every move and action is seen and even errant thoughts can be punished.

Except… this is a little different to the book you may have studied. Inspired by Orwell’s 1984 appendix, Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan have layered up this adaptation with confusion and ambiguity to delve into the nature of truth. The perspective from which the audience sees the action is unsure. Is it in the present? Is it being looked back on? Is Winston Smith even real?

Who’s in it?

Mark Arends is put through the mill as Winston who, in addition to being trapped by the all-seeing Big Brother and fighting against an invented reality, is not even sure he exists. He’s full of angst, confusion and fundamental anger.

Hara Yannas, returning to the Almeida Theatre after appearing in The House Of Bernarda Alba, makes a strong, dangerous Julia, Winston’s illicit love interest. She has a fiendish glint in her eye. Tim Dutton is a chillingly cold O’Brien.

What should I look out for?

This is a Headlong co-production, so it should be no surprise that the staging has a few tricks up its sleeve. Much like the plot of this production, just when I thought I’d got a grip on it, lights flashed, gears whirred and rugs were pulled from under me. At times it left me feeling as disorientated as Winston, but in a way that encouraged me to work harder with the piece rather than alienating me.

For sheer gut-wrenching, wince-inducing look-away-now impact the Room 101 scene is hard to beat.

Who was in the press night crowd?

National Theatre Artistic Director in waiting Rufus Norris popped in to catch the show, as did Loose Woman Janet Street-Porter and Game Of Thrones star and London stage regular Tobias Menzies.

In a nutshell?

If you use a little doublethink to cope with the confusion, 1984 is doubleplusgood.

What’s being said on Twitter?

@gillkirk40: “1984 at The Almeida – fantastic! Congratulations to all involved! An intensely provocative piece of theatre.”

@CarolineHillDKC: “#1984play @AlmeidaTheatre is the must-see show of 2014-A slickly performed & dramatically staged take of a true classic by @HeadlongTheatre”

Will I like it?

If you like theatre that requires you to think, that rewards concentration, that tries to trick you, leads you one way then another, enjoys playfulness and still has the guts to shock, you’ll love it. If you’ve seen a Headlong show before, you probably know what I mean. If you haven’t, give it a try.


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