From the opening, unannounced bong that signals the start of the play, Headlong’s production of George Orwell’s dystopian world is an ethereal and jarring experience.
The initial scenes of 1984 flit between what is presumed to be a ‘real-world’ book group discussing the complexities of Nineteen Eighty-Four, and a detached Winston Smith (Mark Arends) writing in his diary for the first time.
The strength of Arends’ confused portrayal of Winston pulls the play through in these slightly dreary opening moments.
From here, however, 1984 goes from strength-to-strength. Considering the difficulties encountered in adapting such a dialogue-light and ideologically dependent novel, director Robert Icke does remarkably well to stay true to the events and chronology of Orwell’s story.
In particular, the scenes explaining the reduced vocabulary of Newspeak and Julia and Winston’s first meeting in the woods are highlights, demonstrating where Icke’s adaptation really pays off.
As one of the fictional members of the book group notes in the initial stages of the play, Orwell’s novel does not really ‘kick-off’ until the introduction of Julia (Hara Yannas), and much the same could be said about this play.
The production relies heavily on the projection screen at the back of the stage. Whilst this adds to the conspiracy of Big Brother, it does sometimes feel as if you were sat in the cinema.
Tim Dutton’s dangerously calm display as O’Brien is excellent, seeing the play through to its thrilling climax.