Arriving in Glasgow on a wave of five-star reviews, Headlong’s sell-out production of 1984 at the Citizens Theatre would seem to promise much, but the question is, does it deliver? The answer, thankfully, is a resounding yes.
Theatrical productions that genuinely have the power to move are becoming fewer and farther between, but Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s new adaptation of George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece certainly packs an emotional punch.
Taking as its source material the Appendix of the original novel, this is the first attempt to dramatise the often missed or disregarded part of the novel in any medium.
Despite living in a world where the general public expects, if not agrees with being routinely watched and in light of the revelations of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, the story still has the power to shock, and its resonance cannot go unnoticed; the times of financial austerity and political disenchantment in which Orwell’s masterpiece was written are startlingly familiar to audiences today.
This is a production of subtle and infinite detail. The inventive and evocative staging is the perfect marriage of set, lighting and sound design and the transformation to Room 101 is particularly skilfully and chillingly achieved. The cast deliver performances universally deserving of praise, remaining utterly convincing and perfectly pitched throughout.
The genius of Orwell’s writing remains undiminished in the hands of Headlong in this sublime production.
Runs until 6th September
This review was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews here
Originally written in 1948, in 1984 George Orwell envisioned a totalitarian future where love for Big Brother and the State is maintained and controlled at every level, including within the hearts and minds of the people. In this hideous vision of the future (and perhaps disturbing reflection of our present), Motherwell College’s BA (Hons) Acting graduating class present Michael Gene Sullivan’s adaptation of Orwell’s most affecting novel.
Michael Gene Sullivan’s tightly-crafted, condensed script demonstrates an arresting approach to storytelling, whilst throughout, retaining both the relentless claustrophobia of the original work and its shattering emotional impact.
This was never going to be an easy watch: the subject matter so inexorable, so soul-destroying, so unvarying in tone and indeed so worryingly resonant that the fate of this piece is truly in the hands of the actors. So intense is their focus and so tight their grip on the audience’s emotions that you could hear a pin drop throughout the entirety of the performance and in their thrall we remained from start to finish.
In a clever piece of casting, the small ensemble cast were each allowed to play to their strengths: Ross Watson manages to convey the physical vulnerability and emotional turmoil of Winston Smith in the hands of his captors, however, some of his discourse was lost in his sometimes less than crisp diction; John Rennie skilfully gives life to Winston Smith’s words as the 1st Party Member who re-enacts the captive man’s journey from free-thinker to broken soul; Steve Lauder-Russell delivers a well-judged performance as the earnest 3rd Party Member – retaining an intense focus throughout; Colin McGowan is sure-footed as the 4th Party Member – his performance allowing him to showcase a range of characterful voices and allowing us a glimpse of the life beneath the soulless party member. Making an impact were Rachael Logan-Stott and Jordan O’Hara. Logan-Stott’s unerring focus never falters – her intensity as both the 2nd Party Member and Julia is disturbingly compelling. O’Hara does much with a small role – he is a powerful presence on stage – demanding the audience’s full attention in his hugely accomplished, assured and authoritative depiction of O’Brien.
Sparsely but effectively staged (with functional props that were more than likely gathered from whatever source the company could find), it did however add an effective timeless quality to the piece.
Again credit must go to the brave artistic choice – each of the three pieces on show here at Cottiers in Glasgow have a particular relevance and resonance to this place and time. And credit of course to this fine cast who promise much for the future of Scottish acting.