Theatre Review: Ignorance is Strength


1984, written by Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillan (based on the book by George Orwell); produced by Playhouse Theatre: seen May 28, 2014

“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.” George Orwell’s 1984 is a cautionary tale of the dangers of censorship and how language can change the world. It’s also a brutal slam against a world that, with CCTV on every corner and a smart phone in every hand, has a people so frightened of attack that we consent to give up our freedom.

Playhouse Theatre’s production, adapted by Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillan, doesn’t shy away from the inherent theatricality of the plot of 1984. They echo Waiting for Godot as the scenes repeat – and repeat again – as Winston (Sam Carne) goes through his life and slowly ventures into the world of the resistance. There’s also further subtext as the outer concept of the show is that Winston’s diary is found in the future, and the debate as to whether it’s real and what it all means could easily echo any debate about the book 1984 as well.

“Reality exists in the mind.” The tech was astounding in the production, especially with the lighting. Blatant flashes of bright light followed by complete darkness (even the fire exit lights were off) throughout the play leads to the idea that even the audience is being brainwashed, and the pyrotechnics used had me making a joke that there was a reason I had read a review that called it ‘electrifying’.

And a round of applause to what I can only describe as ninja actors, as the scene changes were barely ten seconds long and yet the actors would be on stage and set as if they had been there the entire time – and you couldn’t hear any of them.

“Sanity is not statistical.” The religious overtones of the play were fairly overt, with distribution of wine and pills at one point. The acting at times went a little over the top, but I don’t know how much of that was just me adjusting to London stage techniques, much like the multiple quick curtain calls at the end.

“You see yourself in [the book] because it’s opaque – it’s a mirror.” When it comes to future predictions, I actually believe we’re more Brave New World with our willingness to be duped for safety and happiness. This production attempts that, and succeeds somewhat, but the source material is more public relations as opposed to political correctness. As a result, it only works most of the time. Hopefully, the thought police is comfortable with that concept.

1984 runs until August 23 at the Playhouse Theatre. For more information, visit the Playhouse Theatre’s website