Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: 1984 at The Playhouse Theatre
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04 May REVIEW: 1984 at The Playhouse Theatre

Mark Arends – Winston
Tim Dutton – O’Brien
Stephen Fewell – Charrington
Christopher Patrick Nolan – Martin
Matthew Spencer – Syme
Gavin Spokes – Parsons
Mandi Symonds – Mrs Parsons
Hara Yannas – Julia

“2 + 2 equals…what?” This was my lasting impression of 1984 at the Playhouse Theatre, a play that alters the mind, casts doubt over truth and reality, and challenges the very concept of knowledge. Far more than just 101 minutes of captivating theatre, it is an experience in itself, a cerebral assault that leaves the audience doubting their existence whilst reinforcing the privilege of the freedom.

1984 features stunning performances from Mark Arends and Hara Yannas as Winston and Julia, creating a show which is as well acted as it is compelling. We find Winston, or comrade 6079, dissatisfied with his existence in a dystopian society where merely thinking that 2 + 2 = 4 (instead of 5 as the Party insist) is considered “thoughtcrime,” and will result in a visit from the Thought Police. This dissatisfaction is dangerous, as the Thought Police patrol the consciousness, with the power to eliminate those who challenge Party ideology by turning them into “nonpersons.”

Despite this, we are dropped into a world that looks, and feels, remarkably like our own, as mobile phones ring out, characters are glued to their “telescreens” and everyone believes themself to be unconstrained. It is the familiar and comfortable world that we understand and trust, so we are instantly content as an omniscient spectator. We are all-seeing through the innovative use of technology, which forces us watch the illicit movements of Winston and Julia on the “telescreen,” despite them believing they are unobserved. This produces a fascinating dichotomy at the point of betrayal, as we feel both empowered and manipulated, both responsible and aggrieved. Are we the Thought Police? Or are we inside Winston’s head? Or are they one and the same thing? Does it matter?

This sense of manipulation pervades the production, as everything we know to be true, about our role in the show, and in our own lives, is stripped away, one scene at a time. It is stunning that we speak a language that grammatically divorces the past and the future from the present, yet the production somehow manages to merge and distort the tenses; the equipment in room 101 and in the library look remarkably 1980s, set against the levels of surveillance and the appearance of the Thought Police which are more a warning of a not-too distant future.

The production is strikingly visceral, as it confronts the brutal reality of torture and execution in a way that leaves us feeling emotionally bruised. The “telescreen” broadcast during the “two minutes of hate” echoes familiar footage from warzones across the Middle East, reinforcing the fact that this happens in the world today, and is more relevant than just an abstract idea. I think that this is one of the crucial aspects of the production; with the Hollywood glamourisation of violence, it is so easy to lose sight of what it means to kill, or to torture, and the organic emotional response that should accompany it. This means that at times it is an uncomfortable watch, but in my opinion it should be, which is what makes it so powerful.

The intelligent subversion of our expectations is what makes this Headlong production so brilliant, and what keeps it so relevant. By seizing and discarding our “knowledge,” 1984 forces us to think for ourselves, to challenge what we know to be true and to question everything we are told. In a world of media speculation, relentless propaganda and ever-evolving history, this production reminds us that, “he who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

For tickets and information: