Two Plus Two Equals Five: 1984 Makes a Brief Broadway Appearance
After seeing the play 1984, I had a multitude of reactions. I was disgusted, entranced, nauseous, curious, and just in awe throughout the show. The performance began with a scene that was intended to take place in the future, and it was the first moment in the show that differed from George Orwell’s 1984 that I read this past summer for my tenth grade history class.
During the rest of the play, I considered what others had told me about the show. I had heard that the lighting made people sick and I thought that was ridiculous until I saw the show. I didn’t know that lighting itself could make someone nauseous, but it really made me feel sick, which I think is one of the incredible aspects of theater. Every detail of the show was intended to make the audience feel a certain way. Because I had mostly seen musicals in the past, I was nervous that I would get bored with no big dance numbers or heartbreaking ballads. However, this was not the case with 1984 because every so often there would be an incredibly loud noise with a dramatic flash of the lights that made my heart race and directed my attention back to the show.
Additionally, there were parts of the show that took place on a screen. The audience got to see the scenes in the room above Mr. Charrington’s shop from hidden cameras. Mr. Charrington is storekeeper of an antiques shop, and he provides a hidden room with no telescreens for Winston, the show’s nihilistic protagonist, and Julia, his rebellious companion and quite literally his partner in crime. I had never seen something like this before and I thought it was especially interesting when the set was being ripped down by the ensemble. The room we had seen from the screen was revealed as a voice boomed throughout the theater ordering Winston and Julia not to move.
Strangely enough, I was actually looking forward to the torture scene that takes place toward the end of the novel. For this part in the show, the set was completely changed into a blinding, bright, white box. As Winston was hooked up to the infamous pain machine, a character named O’Brien asked Winston a series of questions. The answer O’Brien wanted to hear was projected on the back wall of the stage, and when Winston got the answer wrong, the result was terrifying. The lights would go crazy and the sounds were loud and chaotic in addition to the actor’s chilling screams.
Tom Sturridge, the actor who portrayed Winston Smith, embodied the role in a very different way than I had imagined Winston to be. When he spoke, it was in a confused mumble and sometimes it was unintelligible. However, the explosive pain and emotion he showed in the torture scene looked physically tolling and strenuous. Neither Winston nor Julia were portrayed in the ways I imagined. Olivia Wilde, the actress who played Julia, seemed stiff and uptight while Winston seemed too loose and not very present. I think that the roles were performed in a different way than Orwell intended, though some qualities of the characters remained.
Also, the fact that the show was 101 minutes with no intermission was tedious at times but definitely helped immerse the audience in the dystopian world of 1984.The lighting and audio design were also really immersive. A review from Time Out magazine reads “When was the last time you felt scared at the theater? Not disturbed or perturbed or provoked, but scared?” I do believe that “scared” is exactly how the audience felt. It really was like a live horror movie: disturbing, disgusting, and provocative.
During the two minutes of hate, the audience sees a video of Emmanuel Goldstein, the leader of an opposing party in Orwell’s 1984, with huge flashing words that read “TRAITOR” right before he gets shot in the head. This visual combined with the actors’ furious shouting was overwhelming and terrifying, and I found myself constantly covering my eyes or grabbing my friend’s arm out of fear.
Overall, I think the show pushed my boundaries and beliefs about what live theater can be. While the show is now closed, I think it is very important to read 1984 and to always keep in mind the lessons it teaches us. 1984 is a life-changing novel, and although the play was different than the book in many ways, I believe that the underlying message came through clearly.