1984 is a classic novel like few others. Published in 1949, it eerily predicts and foreshadows so much of today’s society. CCTV cameras, its namesake reality show and, arguably, certain aspects of the government all tie in closely with what Winston experiences in the book.
When I heard it was being turned into a play I was sceptical but intrigued. How could they possibly do it justice? If they managed it, they did have some excellent and dramatic scenes to work with, most notably that of room 101 as well as love scenes between Winston and Julia and the Two Minutes Hate.
Unfortunately, the play’s first ten minutes rather let it down. It uses a clever framing device of a reading group discussing Winston’s diary at an indeterminate point in the future, but the pay-off from this does not come until the final scene. Despite the beginning being essential for the viewer to settle into the show, it is rather unstable and confusing and it’s hard to even be certain about the idea behind it until the end brings some clarity.
However, once your head gets around this obstacle the play is fantastic. It brings across the tone of the book excellently, with an unsettled silence prevailing between lines of dialogue and loud, brutal sirens and flashes of darkness to punctuate scenes with increasing frequency as the stakes build.
Sam Carne plays Winston subtly, very effectively conveying his character’s move from utter bewilderment at the society around him to holding strong convictions about the right thing to do. Hara Yannas matches him well as Julia, although she is slightly less persuasive and, ultimately, more needs to be made of their relationship in the script in order to provide more dramatic impact at the later betrayal.
What the play does best is make you think. My theatre companion and I left speculating about how our everyday lives today could be compared to that in 1984 – only half joking. There are so many unsettling layers to the story that it is hard even to delve deep enough, but the play certainly did the timeless book justice.