Review: 1984 @ The Playhouse Theatre

As someone more used to musicals than physiological thrillers, I was unsure what to think when the Playhouse Theatre was plunged into darkness.

But Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s adaptation of 1984 left me on the edge of my seat throughout.

If you haven’t read George Orwell’s novel then the plot may seem confusing at first.

Icke and Macmillan draw on Orwell’s often overlooked appendix, The Principle of Newspeak, to give the play a new opening scene – a modern day book club discussing the ongoing impact of the novel.

After a series of flashbacks, the scenes repeating themselves on stage, the audience become just as confused as the protagonist, Winston.

Gradually the play becomes more like Orwell’s narrative, and familiar scenes from the book unfold.


The action is split between the stage – Winston’s flat, the canteen, the woods – and a large TV screen showing Winston and Julia’s ‘secret’ hideout away from Big Brother.

The scenes initially appear pre-recorded but it is later revealed they are happening live backstage – and they are not out of Big Brother’s sight.

At the fateful moment when Winston and Julia are captured by the Thought Police the stage is ripped apart – uncovering their ‘private’ room in the antiques shop – revealing a bare stage nearly three times larger than before, illuminated by a blinding white light.

Some scenes in Room 101 were not always easy to watch, but impossible to look away from.

Andrew Gower put on an incredible performance as Winston – his frustration and pain felt by the audience.

Gower’s acting in Room 101 had me wincing, and also amazed at his ability to speak as though his teeth had been pulled out.

andrew-gower-in-1984-credit-manuel-harlanUNGOOD: Winston turns into a mere shadow of his former self

Julia, played by Catrin Stewart, bought optimism to the dystopian world – but she sometimes seemed too naive to be a part of the resistance.

The small, flexible cast double up as academics from the future analysing Winston from inside his own story.

The intense production, sometimes criticised for too many bells and whistles, is a must-see – but not for children.

The show runs for an apt 101 minutes, without an interval, and for each performance 101 tickets are available for £19.84.


The show runs until Saturday, October 29, for more information and tickets, click here.

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