In a world where covert state surveillance of the masses is rife, it is hardly a surprise George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 is as popular as ever.
In bringing this dystopian vision of the author’s future to the stage at The Grand, directors Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan were faced with no end of challenges.
How do you bring such a well-known story – which challenges the basic perception of reality as well as the power of self-expression – to life in a way that is relevant to someone who has never read the book, while still interesting those who have studied it in depth?
More than a tale of one man’s rebellion against the all-powerful and omnipresent Big Brother, as it seeks to manipulate the past and control the minds of the people, this is also a story of love, loyalty and trust.
The audience knows they are in for an unconventional theatre experience before they have even settled into their seats as they are greeted with the warning there will be no interval.
The play’s directors, much like 1984’s protagonist Winston (Matthew Spencer), have no problem breaking a few rules along the way.
The result is a fast-paced, ambitious spectacle that challenges the audience at every turn. And it works superbly.
The lighting is excellent and the set design brings the story to life in a way many readers of the novel, written in 1949, would never have dreamt of.
At times, the action on stage is almost unwatchable – a sense of inevitability leaves the audience gasping and squirming in their seats.
But the constant questions being asked of those watching are precisely what makes the production work.
It is difficult to escape the irony of watching certain scenes unfold on a huge screen above the stage at precisely the time the characters think they are free from the all-seeing eye of the infamous Big Brother.
Spencer plays a difficult part phenomenally well, while Janine Harouni’s professional debut as Julia is also worthy of special mention.
The eight-strong cast all offer strong performances, allowing the audience to become fully immersed in the drama.
Andre Flynn as the intriguingly sinister Martin is eye-catching, providing added mystery as well as brief comic relief from the overbearing unseen presence of Big Brother.
It is not hard to see why this gripping, visually-striking production was nominated for the Olivier Award for the best new play this year.
It grabs the audience early on and never lets go, constantly questioning what is true and real until viewers are left wondering if two plus two might, in fact, equal five.
n 1984 is at The Grand between now and Saturday.