1984 by George Orwell, a new adaptation created by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillian, runs through February 6, 2016 at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, California. 101 minutes with no intermission. I attended Wednesday January, 16th.
The play opens with Winston Smith writing in his journal. He writes the year 1984 followed by a question mark. We see this both on stage and projected large on the white acoustic tiles at the top of the single room that will be the set for all but the final act. A disembodied voice narrates what Smith may be thinking. A jarring sound, a darkened stage, bright strobe lights toward the house and the rest of the cast joins the stage.
Much of the world of George Orwell’s 1959 book is present in this stage production. It’s been decades since I read it in school, but much feels familiar. Perpetual war, constant surveillance, power for the sake of power and all of it wrapped in newspeak.
The multimedia that was used in the opening to show the journal is used to great effect (though not constantly) throughout the play. It’s easy to question the reality of a certain off stage set. The editing of history is visualized. A propaganda snuff film might as well of been produced by ISIS.
Winston Smith (Mathew Spencer) is a brilliantly confused presence on stage, driving the core narrative. The rest of the cast morph moment to moment from his contemporaries, to memories, to a book club in our future debating if the book 1984 is fiction or truth or both. Scenes freeze and restart and refrain and fugue. The disembodied voice returns occasionally.
Whereas most of the play is engaging with occasional and jarring scene transitions, the final act introduces a new set and a spectacular level of discomfort. It’s powerful and drives home the point but is not easy to sit through.
I’m amazed how much was packed into a non-stop hour and 40 minutes. I have the distinct desire to reread the book, a desire I’ve not had for years. This is the second play I’ve seen in this venue and once again I feel like the intimacy and relatively small stage manage to amplify the production rather than constrain it. I highly recommend you catch a showing if at all possible.