Susan Granger’s review of “1984” (Hudson Theatre: 2017-2018 season)
It’s no coincidence that after President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January, George Orwell’s 1949 cautionary, dystopian, sci-fi nightmare topped the best-seller list.
And it’s not surprising that astute producers Scott Rudin and Sonia Friedman just brought Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s grimly intense London stage adaptation of that novel to Broadway.
The doomed hero, an Everyman narrator named Winston Smith (Tom Sturridge), is introduced through a group of citizens gathered around a table in what resembles a shabby book store/library. It seems that by 2050 the Party fell but, before that, the terror of thought-control reigned throughout the land.
But back in 1984, Winston Smith decides to keep a diary, refusing to accept the oppression of Big Brother’s manipulated reality as chronicled in “The Principles of Newspeak,” which outlines the structure and etymology of the official language of Oceania’s dictatorship.
In newspeak, War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength. Those who protest are “vaporized” or “un-personed,” denied existence and obliterated from history.
And if O’Brien (Reed Birney), the interrogator at the Ministry of Truth tells you that 2+2=5, you must accept that as fact. The contemporary parallels are abundantly clear.
When Winston endeavors to evade the Thought Police, he joined by Julia (Olivia Wilde, making her Broadway debut), a red-belted member of the Anti-Sex League, who slips him a note, simply stating, “I love you.”
Although they indulge in what they believe is an intimate tryst, enjoying forbidden delicacies like chocolate and coffee – they subsequently discover that they have not escaped surveillance. Their images appear on a giant screen above the stage – and Winston must pay a horrific price for disobedience.
This wildly innovative production features so much sadistic political torture, punctuated by blinding lights, frequent blackouts and an ear-blasting soundscape that no one under the age of 13 is allowed in the audience. And if you leave for seat for any reason during the performance, you are not permitted to return.
Audience members are also alerted that the play is performed without an intermission and runs 101 minutes which is obviously a reference to Room 101, where the torture takes place. Since nothing in this depressing play is subtle, the audience seems to be numb by the time it concludes.