When I first read about how people were fainting and vomiting during previews for 1984, I was rolling my eyes a bit. Typical buzz hyperbole, I assumed. But, after sitting through the last 20 minutes of this truly visceral production I can honestly say that if I had been closer to the stage (I was in the balcony) I may have lost consciousness myself.
Anyone familiar with this story (and in these times it can feel like we all are even if we haven’t read it) knows going in that this isn’t going to be an easy watch. But it is a vital one. Directors Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan, mix technology and pathos in interesting ways to keep the pace unrelenting. This makes the rare moments of calm between Winston (a befuddled but intense Tom Sturridge) and Julia (Olivia Wilde) all the more heart wrenching in their doomed peacefulness.
The kicker of 1984 has always been for me that it doesn’t offer a clear road map for what we are supposed to do in the face of Big Brother and this is really hit home here by the unrelenting calm of Reed Birney as O’Brien. It doesn’t matter what Winston (or an interrupting audience member) says to him, the Party’s will will continue apace. It’s terrifying, and like Orwell, I’m not sure how that is to be resisted, but its worth thinking about and this play will make you do that. Once your heart rate returns to normal.