Theatre review: 1984, West Yorkshire Playhouse

5.00

 

It seems a suitably Orwellian reward to the extraordinary success story that is Nottingham Playhouse’s co-production of 1984.  On the day that tickets for its keenly-awaited opening at the Almeida in London went on sale, the company was told - without warning - it faced losing all of its funding from Nottinghamshire County Council.

The authority is grappling with ways of making £154m in cuts over the next three years and has argued that located as it is in the city of Nottingham, the Playhouse did not come under its jurisdiction whilst those theatres that did, did not receive any grant support.

I dare say it’s not appropriate to evoke O’Brien’s chilling phrase during Winston Smith’s interrogation that the future was like a “boot stamping on a human face” but it must have felt a little bit like that when the news broke.

For Headlong and Nottingham Playhouse have produced a work of extraordinary quality and intensity here that has been wooing audiences not just in the Robin Hood County but everywhere it goes.

It is relatively rare in the theatre to hear audiences truly gasp in horror but on this night in Leeds they did three times. Glancing round the packed Quarry Theatre I was half expecting walkouts as the de-briefing of Orwell’s quiet hero got anatomical. But in the end everyone was too riveted to their seats to bother with that.

This is a very neat theatrical telling of the classic dystopian parable which is more a study of internal tension and tiny acts of defiance as it is a political drama.

There is of course the love story at the centre of it all. Sex and intimacy as an act of opposition – a hand grenade of animal excitement tossed into a world of mind-numbing bureaucratic routine and insecurity.

Orwell’s vision of austerity, the depressing canteen meals, threadbare socks and eked-out chocolate rations are skilfully brought to life. We eavesdrop on Winston and Julia’s affair through a secret camera as they do their best to re-enact the rituals of love in the claustrophobic confines of an antique shop’s back room.

And there is probably the most exciting live set change I have ever witnessed as the couple are betrayed following an exquisitely nervy counter with party bigwig O’Brien and their lives explode in a wail of sirens, masked guards and torture.

This production has no doubt caught something of the zeitgeist with this summer’s revelations by former NSA employee Edward Snowden that America is watching you through your telephone or computer. But just as two plus two equals four, it would have done anyway.

West Yorkshire Playhouse to 16 November. London Almeida from 8 February 8 to 29 March 2014.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea