1984, Almeida Theatre – Are Airstrip One and perpetual war inevitable at this stage?

3.5 hearts

Headlong and Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company have joined forced to create a stage adaptation of Orwell’s famous dystopian oeuvre.  A disillusioned Winston Smith begins to write a diary while simultaneously a book club in the future ponders the book’s provenance and the loss of any historical facts about Smith following the downfall of Big Brother.

1984 - Stephen Fewell (Charrington), Gavin Spokes (Parsons), Mandi Symonds (Mrs Parsons) and Matthew Spencer (Syme)  Tristram KentonThe play is layered with past, present and future scenes juxtaposed while song fragments, memory lapses and word/scene repetitions are also used in such a way we are never sure of when or where things are happening.  Winston falls in love but can he trust his lover.  They both live in constant fear of being caught by the Thought Police and finally fall prey to O’Brien, who double crosses the lovers by offering them a chance to join the Brotherhood.

The show cleverly mirrors the essence of the book by using multimedia to make us into voyeurs of the lovers and keeping us constantly guessing as to who is with or against Winston.  It is easy to draw parallels with our current world in which cameras pick up our every move, keyboard strokes are recorded and governments spy on our calls, texts and emails.

For all its cleverness though, I was left strangely unmoved by Winston and Julia’s plight.  Nevertheless, the acting is very good and at 90 minutes, time does indeed fly by.  Mark Arends is permanently on edge as the questioning Smith while Hara Yannas’ Julia is fantastic as the apparent party follower turned lover and Tim Dutton is chilling as O’Brien.  The design by Chloe Lamford is particularly ingenious.  Adapted and created by Robert Icke & Duncan Macmillan, Headlong should be celebrated as it continues to create innovative and provocative theatre.