Seeing Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s adaptation of George Orwell’s classic 1984 is like being stuck inside an obnoxious video game. Everything is incoherence, violent for the sake of brutality and an assault on all five senses. Despite all the interesting visual gimmicks, this show traps you for well over two hours.
I am a fan of the novel, but this a manipulated version intent on capturing millennials, but no one else. Part of the problem is we are dropped into a world, without ever quite understanding it or its inhabitants. Chloe Lamford’s set, until the last section of the play, is placed nowhere in time. The vocabulary is odd, yet never explained. Are we in 1984, now or the future? We meet Winston Smith (Tom Sturridge), whose job is to rewrite history to match the government’s constantly changing positions. In the novel Smith is a mild-mannered middle-aged cog, who wakes up to the evils around him, whereas Sturridge is a young man. He becomes increasingly paranoid, but for good reason. Here the government tells you what to think and believe. Facts are no longer relevant. No one is to be trusted, as Big Brother has brainwashed everyone.
Part of the confusion in this production causes is that the performers begin as a book group from the future, but how they got here or why they are here is never explained.
At Winston’s place of work there are electronic voices and oversized computer graphics. Projected images of the so-called enemies of the state are shown to rally the inhabitants into “two-minute hate” sessions, where Winston shouts “Down with Big Brother” (or does he?). When Winston meets Julia (Olivia Wilde), his rebellious spirit comes out, as the two become lovers in secret. This is all shown in a gimmicky video designed by Tim Reid.
When the lovers are captured, the whole show takes on a sci-fi hellish atmosphere thanks to the lighting by Natasha Chivers and nerve-shattering sound effects by Tom Gibbons. It is at this point that we meet O’Brien (Reed Birney), the person in charge. The interrogations that Winston is put by O’Brien through are so graphic, you feel as if you are being forced to watch a snuff film. The most odd part if this is that even though Winston becomes covered in blood, O’Brien’s shirt stays blindingly white. How is that even possible?
As for the acting Mr. Sturridge, who has been a long time favorite of mine, is just miscast. Ms. Wilde gives an interesting Broadway debut and Mr. Birney is very creepy.
The entire show seems to ask us what is real, to question truth and ask what is possibly in front of us politically. The problem is it is hard to do that when your senses are assaulted and you are confused from the get-go.
1984: Hudson Theatre, 145 West 44th St. until Oct 8th.