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Theatre review



Citizens, Glasgow

Neil Cooper

The low rumble that pierces the dimly-lit auditorium looking onto a locked-down stage curtain reveals nothing of Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan's thrilling and already-acclaimed new stage version of George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984.

Things start quietly enough in this co-production between Headlong, Nottingham Playhouse and the Almeida Theatre, with Orwell's Everyman hero, Winston Smith, seeming to be part of a book group analysing some weighty and rediscovered memoir dating from before the world may or may not have changed for the better.

As Matthew Spencer's terminally bemused-looking Smith is shunted into a world he doesn't recognise, in between erasing people from history in the Ministry of Truth, his private revolution comes through three words scrawled on a scrap of paper that prove the most dangerous of all.

The psychological battle that ensues isn't just with the all-seeing authorities, but with Smith's own sanity.

With a screen at the back of stage relaying a real-time video feed, Icke and Macmillan's production simmers and fizzes with a high-tension erotic pulse from Winston's liaison with Janine Harouni's mysterious Julia.

Once this gives way to the matter-of-fact brutality of O'Brien's Room 101, however, its power to convey the grim realpolitik of a now-normalised surveillance culture makes Orwell's classic novel look more prophetic than ever.

The "two minutes hate" reflects some of the collective bile generated on social media.

And when O'Brien state: "People will not look up from their screens long enough to rebel," it is the most chilling observation of all in a vital reimagining of what looks like the most contemporary of fictions made flesh.

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