★★★★☆ Playhouse Theatre, 1984
An intense, powerful and somewhat traumatizing experience with fantastic performances that make this play a must see of the season.
Winston Smith, a comrade of the outer party, opens a diary that will change his life forever. By doing so, he commits ‘thoughtcrime’ that is punished by death. He lives in a post-war world that is split into three countries, Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia.
The Government controls everything, what people eat, by rationing food, what they do, with constant surveillance through telescreens that can’t be turned off. Sex and love are forbidden. People are meant to dedicate their life to the party and therefore relationships are not allowed, and sex is only for the reproduction of party members. Even thinking is controlled by the government through newspeak, the language of Oceania, that decreases its vocabulary yearly and therefore ‘thoughtcrime’ will become impossible. People are brain washed and therefore don’t realise that they’re being told what to do and think.
Winston, who works in the Record Department has realised Big Brother’s control over everything and started to question his life. In the search for liberty, he meets Julia, a young comrade and falls in love. They join The Brotherhood, a secret organization by Emanuel Goldstein, an ex-Inner Party member who turned against Big Brother and is now the symbol of the rebellion. However, Big Brother is always watching.
The direction by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan is brilliant through and through. The timing reinforces intensity of certain scenes keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. However, if you’re not familiar with the story, it takes some time to understand the storyline and what is actually happening on stage, as there isn’t much background information that explains this distorted world.
Winston Smith is played by Andrew Gower, who delivers a magnificent performance that follows his journey as a frail man, who has trouble differentiating reality from false memories to opposing a suppressive government. Catrin Stewart, who portrays Julia is an excellent addition to Winston, as a young and energetic woman who knows how to lie properly in order to survive in Oceania. The staging is not only clever and efficient but also so versatile. It makes you hold your breath. One minute, we’re in Winston Smith’s home, the next in the canteen and then at the train station.
This spine-tingling play leaves a bitter sweet aftertaste. Resonating with a world that had Snowden revealing that the USA secretly used the internet for mass surveillance to spy on people and governments.
So did George Orwell predict the future? Are we all being brainwashed without realising it? These questions stay in mind, even hours after leaving the theatre.