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1984 – Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry

Writers: Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan from the book by George Orwell

Directors: Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan

Reviewer: George Attwell Gerhards


1984-Warwick Arts centre Tristram KentonGeorge Orwell’s novel 1984 remains to this day one of the most crucial works of literature to come out of the 20th Century. It is a marriage of vast political messages and a very intimate love story, managing to tread the line between being ‘important’ and a good read. In this, a co-production between Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company and Headlong, both facets of the narrative are given equal balance in what manages to be an innovative, yet still faithful, adaptation of the book.

Winston Smith (Mark Arends) secretly rebels against the Party and its iconic and omnipresent leader Big Brother, starting a love affair with fellow dissenter Julia (Hara Yannas) and searching out the shady revolutionary organisation ‘the Brotherhood’ via the seemingly friendly O’Brien (Tim Dutton). So far, so familiar. In an interesting and effective adage, Icke and Macmillan bookend their narrative with discussions from a book club in the distant future, looking upon the diary left by Winston. This manages to bring the audience into the themes of the piece without the aid of Orwell’s third person narration that a reader would have in a book. Other clever techniques include repetition of scenes, highlighting both the mundanity of life under the party, and also the fragility of memory. For example, a clever scene involving Winston’s co-worker Syme (Matthew Spencer) seen both before and after his disappearance, pans out exactly the same.

It’s worth stating that this is an uncomfortable watch, and rightly so. The denouement particularly is difficult to withstand: Natasha Chivers’ light and Tom Gibbons’ sound combine to create a painful, crisp atmosphere for Room 101, and Arends’ physical performance in the space is almost unbearable at times. Room 101 itself is an impressive being, becoming visible as the set that had remained from the start is stripped away among a cloud of fog, harsh strip lighting and blaring noise.

amid the terrific finale, O’Brien’s waxing lyrical about “the Party and how it wants to help etc.” does jar a little. There is nothing wrong with Dutton’s performance, but at times it feels like you’re watching an (admittedly very very good) A level drama piece, however that is probably down to the source material and the connotations it has of being an A level set text. Yet this is still a marvellous adaptation, familiar but fresh, visually impressive and intelligent.

Runs until 19/10/13

Picture: Tristram Kenton


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