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A CurtainUp DC Review
The play is faithful to the novel and its appendix. Orwell warned his readers about the persecution of the individual, how the government could/would regiment citizens' lives through the Ministries of Truth, which invites revisionism vis a vis history; Peace, i.e. the military; Love, meaning law and order and Plenty, economics — right down to the rationing of chocolate, which was a sore subject to many citizens of the UK in the 1940s.
Totalitarianism looks even grimmer in this live performance that is enhanced with video screens and smoke. Glaring floodlights pointed at the audience serve as a wake-up call that says, hey, you are part of this too.
Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948, the year LP's were invented. He could not possibly have envisioned what we in 2016 accept as normal: the internet with gives and receives information that can be distributed willy-nilly regardless of accuracy; the lack of privacy and the efforts to keep things like medical records, government e-mails confidential; even those annoying cameras mounted above streets that catch drivers doing things they shouldn't.
Orwell's vision of dystopia is hard to watch because of its mental and physical cruelty but Headlong seduces you into the action. You might wish to turn away but the in-your-face, highly stylized direction by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan holds your attention captive. They are blessed with a uniformly excellent cast headed by Matthew Spencer as Winston (a name that was very familiar to Brits while Orwell was writing 1984) and last name Smith, an apt substitute for Everyman.
Winston's love interest (love as we know it not like the Ministry of Love's mission to maintain an orderly society) is Julia, thought to be based on Orwell's third and final wife. Winston and Julia vow that they will never betray each other but a brutal regime warps their intentions.
What makes this production of 1984 so effective, so squirm-making is not just the superb direction, scenery, use of rear screen projections and especially the lighting, but the acting. Eight British actors and one locally-grown child make up the truly excellent cast. Particularly noteworthy is Matthew Spencer on whose shoulders the responsibility for plausibility rests in this thought-provoking, intellectual workout. The ideas don't go away, they linger.