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War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is strength. 2 + 2 = 5.
Company (Photo: Tristram Kenton)
When Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan secured the rights from the Orwellian Estate to write a new theatrical production of George Orwell's 1940 novel 1984 their visionary concept was to use the appendix to the novel to stage it. The Glossary in the theatre programme, (essential on this occasion) explains concepts like Doublethink — the ability to hold two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously and accept both of them, or Blackwhite— the ability not only to believe that black is white, but to know that black is white and forget that one has ever believed the contrary.

Many of George Orwell's concepts from 1984 have already entered our society. Big Brother and Room 101 are both lighter television programmes and when we need a new passport in Europe our fingerprints are recorded on the great state machine. The internet has brought the ability to monitor our every communication. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter put all kinds of thoughts into the public arena. Cameras record our movements on the street and in premises.

This production has a group of people reading Winston Smith's journal in the future where Smith (Mark Arends) is criticising the state led by Big Brother in which he lives. As the production dips in and out of the novel, the audience has to work to keep up. Smith works for the Ministry of Love where history is rewritten to exclude those who are no longer approved by the state. He has no idea what day it is because of the rewriting of events and the clock strikes 13. He is repeatedly asked, "Where do you think you are, Winston?"

In the grim works canteen, people repeatedly clean the chairs and the tables, wipe the tin trays, use the carpet sweeper, in repetitive movements like caged animals stereotyping. Chloe Lamford's set is tedious municipal wood and grimy glass, the effect depressing and oppressive. Winston Smith breaks the rules and finds love with Julia (Hara Yannas) in a room above the antique shop where he thinks Big Brother cannot see them on the ubiquitous telescreens.

In Room 101 Winston Smith is interrogated by O'Brien (Tim Dutton) and in scenes which I couldn't bear to watch, ten times worse than the blinding of Gloucester, Smith is tortured to the sound of an electric saw cutting of his finger tips till the blood drips and removing his teeth. We never see the dreaded rats as they are placed up to his face in a container but it is very uncomfortable staging in a brightly lit room with nowhere to hide. Figures in white nuclear overalls and gas masks line the room seated at the sides. There is the sound of sirens.

At just 100 minutes without an interval, Orwell's nightmare novel is brought to life. Mark Arends has been cast because he looks so like the author and his performance is sympathetic as he shows us what dissidents can expect from autocratic regimes. Harrowing.

A new adaptation of George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four created by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan

With: Mark Arends, Tim Dutton, Stephen Fewell, Christopher Patrick Nolan, Matthew Spencer, Gavin Spokes, Mandi Symonds, Hara Yannas, Asha Banks, Sylvie Gillard
On film: Richard Bremmer, Joshua Higgott
Designed by Chloe Lamford
Sound: Tom Gibbons
Lighting: Natasha Chivers
Video Design: Tim Reid
A co-production between the Almeida, Headlong and Nottingham Playhouse
Running time: One hour 40 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7359 4404
Booking to 29th March 2014 but sold out
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 17th February 2014 performance at the Almeida, Almeida street, London N1 1TA (Tube: Angel, Islington)
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