Robert Tanitch reviews 1984 at Almeida Theatre, London, N1
Published in 1949, George Orwell’s novel was an instant popular and critical success. “If you want a picture of the future,” he said, “imagine a boot on a human face – for ever.”
Are we living in Orwell’s imagined future now? Big Brother is most certainly watching us. We live in an age of surveillance and our lives are constantly monitored.
Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan, who have created and directed this stage adaptation (a co-production between Headlong and Nottingham Playhouse) think the appendix is the most important part of the novel.
Their radical, intellectual and exciting production is, at times, designed to leave the audience as disorientated as the leading character, Winston Smith, who works in the Ministry of Truth and spends his day rewriting and erasing history. He is well played by Mark Arends.
Doublethink is the ability to hold two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and accept both of them: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. 2+2=5.”
The totalitarian state controls not only records, memory, but even language. Newspeak is designed to diminish not to extend the range of thought. Thought is crime and there are thoughtpolice to arrest offenders. The state can always rely on children to denounce their parents.
Tim Dutton is excellent as O’Brien, Winston’s physical and psychological tormentor. The horrific torture scenes, which close the play, may prove to be too harrowing for some theatregoers.