Words by Lochy Maybury
Despite every obnoxiously white twenty-year-old in the Socialist Alternative listing 1984 as a seminal literary piece, it is, in fact, a seminal literary piece. It’s a terrifying depiction of authoritarian government at its most powerful and immovable. A stage adaptation in 2017 should be a slam dunk. However, while the team for State Theatre’s presentation of the West End hit is bursting with talent, ultimately, the parts are greater than the sum.
There are definitely strong points. The stagecraft is superb; the set, reminiscent of an architects model is eerie in its sterile realism and the changes are so tight it’s almost like magic. However, the problems lie in the text adaptation itself.
It’s a difficult play to watch and the truly disappointing thing is it needn’t have been. Orwell’s novel is crisp and streamlined, with an incredible depth of world-building and story arc in a very short space of time. The stage adaptation bears almost no resemblance. There are several key problems.
- The stakes begin so high it leaves the show nowhere to go. Any depiction of the mundanity of everyday life under Big Brother is noticeably absent.
- The relationship between Winston and Julia is completely implausible, leaving the audience with little feeling one way or the other for either of the characters.
- An attempt to introduce a meta sub-plot of a book club serves no discernible purpose and adds a painful amount of time to the play.
These issues, all text-related, make for a punishing theatre experience. In a global political climate so rife with corruption, devolving of language, tyrannical abuse of power and suppression of media, 1984 feels like a chance gone begging.