1984 Headlong

George Orwell’s novel 1984 has been regarded as one of the greatest dystopian fiction novels ever written, setting the benchmark for the rest of its genre. Now, Orwell’s haunting vision of a restrictive and oppressive future has been turned into a new and equally haunting play, 1984, created by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan.

Like the novel it is adapted from, the play revolves around the story of Winston Smith, a servant to the bleak, totalitarian government of Oceania. He falls in love with a woman named Julia, and the two try to stand together and fight back against the government, only to fail and be quashed. The play manages to capture the most significant moments in Winston’s story and conveys the major themes from the original novel in a unique way.

The play’s primary method of conveying these themes is through its characters; the chemistry between Winston, played by Mark Arends, and Julia, played by Hara Yannas, is electric and makes you genuinely feel for their inevitably doomed relationship. The ensemble was equally electric, acting together as a coherent and tight group, which made the well-written script come to life.

The play’s secondary method of conveying the themes comes in the form of its set. Collapsing walls and live projections make the script come to life even more, creating various interesting perspectives and giving full rein to the clear and focused narrative and its powerful characters. There were also some astonishing lighting effects being used, which were completely synchronised and connected with the characters on stage, conveying the themes in an even stronger way.

The most interesting of the play, however, is the fact that it was written with the appendix at the ending of the original novel in mind. The play is not a strict retelling of the events that happen in it, and the play places emphasis on society’s perspective of Winston’s story and asks whether evidence itself can be trusted. The main question asked to Winston throughout the play was “Where do you think you are?”, highlighting the importance of the novel’s original appendix and further asking the audience the same question, and whether their instincts and their feelings can be trusted in general. This makes the play even more relevant to ideas that still float around in society today and reinforce all of the original novel’s themes and, more importantly, its warning.

All in all, this new adaptation is electric, focused and clear in its approach. It presents the original novel’s themes through its fantastic characters, set and highlights the important question: who can we actually trust?

1984 played at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 16 November and is currently on tour. For more information, see the West Yorkshire Playhouse website