1984, Headlong at Bath Theatre Royal

George Orwell's 1984 - Stephen Fewell as Charrington - Photo credit Manuel Harlan (2)GEORGE Orwell’s terrifying and prophetic dystopian novel 1984, published in 1949, has been adapted and re-imagined by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan, and it is playing at Bath’s Theatre Royal until 3rd October, before heading to Australia and the USA.

The award-winning production, by Headlong, Nottingham Playhouse and the Almeida, opened two years ago. The 1984 of the title is 30 years gone,  and the adaptors set their story now, or then, or any time between or perhaps in the future, such is the kaleidoscopic nature of the production.

Played without interval, with video projections, cruel lighting and an overwhelming sense of fear, and with several fragments repeated, it’s no wonder that the production has won praise wherever it has been performed.

We start in what might be a university seminar some time in the future, where the students discuss how they all THINK they know what 1984, the book, is about, but they haven’t read it and are fed by other people’s opinions. It all comes into focus as the audience realises that these “students” don’t know what the book is or who wrote it.

At a time when our own civilisation seems hell-bent on the destruction of what it has learned and discovered, to replace it with shallow, banal and selfish trivia, and ruthless tyrannies in North Korea and the “Islamic State” eradicate any independent thought, George Orwell’s message is even more insistent.

Matthew Spencer’s central character, Winston Smith, looking alarmingly like a conflation of Prince William and David Cameron in close-up, is the man who tries to fight the system. But confronted by Big Brother and Room 101 (chillingly, television reality shows for our generation) he has no defences.

This 1984 is as technically brilliant as it is persuasively performed, and sent me shivering into the night, wondering if the human race can possibly turn back the tide it is bent on fuelling, more aggressively with each day.


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