October 29-November 2

1984

Liverpool Playhouse

1984ImageHandler

Reviewed for Whatsonstage

4*

Orwell must be turning in his grave, no, not because phrases like ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Room 101’ have been comically/tragically commandeered – to leap out and congratulate all concerned with this production.

It is however going to be difficult to describe without giving anything way to spoil the impact, although this is definitely not for those of a nervous disposition. Wholly gripping, it had the audience transfixed, or else covering eyes and ears, and jumping out of their skin.

Starting with a basic set resembling some kind of community hall, or indeed, a library sans books, backed by a video installation, of course, put to stunning use, the staging is incredible: towards the end, the entire thing is swept away and completely altered.

It may be that the shadow of Richard Burton falls too heavily: Mark Arends as Winston tends to pale into insignificance (though perhaps appropriately), alongside the fiery Julia (Hara Yannas) and the murderously efficient, eminently reasonable interrogator, O’Brien (Tim Dutton). Not sure whether it’s the same in the book but we’re a good half hour into the play before he has much to say. Likewise, so much repetition, scenes and dialogue, imbues everything with the sense of a sinister Groundhog Day, as do Stephen Fewell’s furtive antiques dealer/pompous lecturer, Gavin Spokes, the model citizen, Parsons, and robotic Martin (Christopher Patrick Nolan, last seen playing keyboard with Kraftwerk, possibly…).

Amazing book, amazing adaptation; it is one of the most frightening things I’ve ever seen on a stage. And there’s only way to describe this horrific new world: dreadfully good.

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