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Review of 1984 by George Orwell at The Playhouse Theatre, London

Its true to say that sometimes I could be won over by a production in the first minute or so, much I suppose like the opening line of a book maybe. 1984 from Headlong and Almeida Theatre did just that. The opening scene following the striking of the thirteenth hour begins with Winston Smith writing in his diary. After a time the lights of the stage go out and seemingly seconds later they are back on and six more members of the cast have appeared from seemingly nowhere and are perfectly posed to begin their roles.

I can be won over maybe too easily by sound, visual and those choreographed tricks perhaps too much, but this one I think would easily win over most people. I know that it presented a number of gasps from the audience surrounding me.

Gasps were plenty during the creators Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillan's new adaptation of Orwell's classic novel. There were so many visual and sound tricks with clever stage and set work there are too many to many to mention. People appearing in corridors and a flick of the light and they are gone or a person walking to a door and on opening a different person enters. These little tricks promoted a type of confusion on the audience as Winston himself was confused. Clever repeated scenes was also stunningly effective with the mealtime one amazing in the power to confuse our lead.

All these sound and lighting tricks courtesy of Tom Gibbons and Natasha Chivers respectively also had to deal with one of the strongest sets I have seen, take a bow Chloe Lamford. Simple to look at as the play opens, but oh so incredibly cleverly used as the play evolves, right down to the quite simply incredible final evolution for the room 101 scene. Dazzling and spectacular.

This is as far down a review I have ever got before mentioning the cast and this is not because they do not perform as they truly are as clever as the set they perform on. Sam Crane as Winston Smith portrays the initial confusion of his character at the beginning, building through the play via the stunning scene in O'Brien's office (despite his back to the audience) and finally into that room 101 scene. His torture we feel, we really do. Once again the gasps were in evidence as the audience occasionally reeled at the scenes. Not overtly graphic but made psychologically so in the mind via them sound and visual cues again.

Tim Dutton is equally effective in his role as O'Brien, in my mind a role played by Richard Burton, so very big shoes to fill. However for the stage Dutton impresses well. As does Hara Yannas as Julia. Once again I hark back to the film version here as Suzanna Hamilton captured the waif like role to stunning effect for me back then and Yannas rekindled those thoughts superbly. Finally I have to say that Christopher Patrick Nolan also stood out as the sinister, sometimes evocatively silent Martin.

I have to say finally that I liked the boldness of playing the performance in one act with no interval. Building the tension in one solid sitting worked for me and I hope that it doesn't detract for too many people in doing so. An interval would have been detrimental to the whole piece I feel and I applaud the decision.

Its safe to say that I will not be having a two minutes' hate for this play, I wouldn't be able to get to two seconds.


Performance viewed: Monday 7th July 2014 at the Playhouse Theatre, London.

1984 continues at the Playhouse Theatre, London until 23rd August, 2014. Details can be found at http://1984theplay.co.uk

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