Recently I have been branching off from book reviews with the fantastic opportunities to review plays I’ve had since being at University. You can listen to my radio review of Sweeney Todd at www.lsrfm.com, and here is a written review of a performance of 1984 I went to see at the West Yorkshire Playhouse this week.
George Orwell’s novel 1984 encompasses warped mind games in a world ruled by the all-seeing Big Brother, in which history is erased, language twisted and love forbidden. This stage adaptation is co-created by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan, who are certainly not afraid of playing a few of their own games in this excellent retelling of Winston and Julia’s doomed love affair. A book club from the unknown, distant future discusses a book from the past (which the audience knows to be Winston’s diary), to frame the performance. The play had a very effective use of a split-level set, encompassing a large video screen that was successfully potent without being gimmicky. The acting itself was brilliant, with powerful scenes of precise repetition as Winston, played by Mark Arends, refuses to believe that his mind is unravelling. The play is not an easy watch, in any sense: it is at times wincingly gory with the directors not shying away from portraying troubling torture, and using a insufferably high-pitched noise and powerful lighting to set the audience on edge. The overarching sense of helplessness at the hands of such merciless power is prevalent throughout, but more importantly, the performance highlights the relevance in the 21st century of one of the greatest dystopian novels of all time.