1984 (touring) – theatre review

It is April 1984. Comrade 6079, Winston Smith (Tom Conroy), has a thought, starts a diary and falls in love, but Big Brother is watching his every move. You see, he is not allowed to think for himself. He has to tow the party line at all times and subversives are outed and disciplined for thought crimes. This is a world where an invasive government keeps a malevolently watchful eye on all its citizens.

Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan have created this new adaptation of George Orwell’s iconic dystopian novel, published in 1949, looking back at what happened to the principal character. 

The brilliant way 1984 is staged shocks you to your core. It has been seen by more than 400,000 people, with three hugely successful seasons in the West End, extensive UK and US touring and international festival appearances. That included a sold out season at the 2015 Melbourne Festival.

The story I first encountered as a high school student remains just as compelling all these years later – as only great writing does. 

The performances from the cast are right on the money, breathing life into the fear and vitriol, which underpin the narrative. The menace of the overseer/interrogator is palpable.

The staging is nothing short of superb – markedly affecting and effective. It’s coupled with lighting and at times ear-piercing sound effects. The designer is Chloe Lamford, lighting designer Natasha Chivers, sound designer Tom Gibbons and video designer Tim Reid.

Action happens on various planes – conventionally, at the front of the stage, above the stage via video footage and (later) at the back of the stage; before all is stripped bare.  To say any more would be to ruin what for me was, without a doubt, one of the most impactful staging, sound and lighting displays I have had the good fortune to witness.

The production values inculcate Orwell’s prose into your psyche like a jackhammer boring into concrete. 1984 is a theatrical master class, richly rewarding and highly deserving of acclamation. 

It is playing at the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne until 10 June, at Brisbane’s Lyric Theatre from 14 to 18 June and in Sydney’s Roslyn Packer Theatre between 28 June and 22 July. It moves to Canberra Theatre from 25 to 29 July, before finishing at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth, where it will be staged between  4 and 13 August 2017.

Alex First

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