Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
The low rumble that pierces the dimly-lit auditorium that looks onto a
firmly locked down stage curtain reveals nothing of what follows in
Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan's thrilling and already acclaimed new
stage version of George Orwell's dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Things start quietly enough in this co-production between Headlong,
Nottingham Playhouse and the Almeida Theatre, with Orwell's Everyman
hero, Winston Smith, seeming to be part of a book group analysing some
weighty and rediscovered memoir dating from before the world may or may
not have changed for the better.
As Matthew Spencer's terminally bemused looking Winston is shunted into
a world he doesn't recognise inbetween erasing people from history in
the Ministry of Truth, his private revolution comes through three words
scrawled on a scrap of paper that prove to be the most dangerous of
all. The psychological battle that ensues isn't just with the
all-seeing authorities, but with Winston's own sanity.
With a screen at the back of stage relaying a real-time video feed,
Icke and Macmillan's production
simmers and fizzes with a high-tension erotic pulse formed from
Winston's liaison with Janine Harouni's mysterious Julia. Once this
gives way to the matter-of-fact brutality of O'Brien's Room 101,
however, its power to convey the grim realpolitik of a a now normalised
surveillance culture makes Orwell's novel look more prophetic than
The 'two minutes hate' reflects some of the collective bile generated
on social media, and when O'Brien states that “People will not look up
from their screens long enough to rebel,” it is the most chilling
observation of all in a vital reimagining of what looks like the most
contemporary of fictions made flesh.
The Herald, September 1st 2014