Theatre review: 1984 (cITIZENS THEATRE)

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It’s three decades since the year in which George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 was set, but a new stage version reminds us of its eternal power.

The joint forces of the Almeida Theatre, Headlong and the Nottingham Playhouse have accomplished the trick of making the tale of totalitarianism seem both familiar and strange.

The production cleverly encapsulates the story of Winston Smith within an innovative theatrical framing device.

It sees a book club from the future debating whether the satire is fact or fiction, with the suggestion that much of Orwell’s predictions have in fact belatedly come to pass in the intervening years.

This slippery narrative is echoed in the way the main plot is told, with the heavy use of video suggesting how history can be filmed, packaged, edited and essentially rewritten.

On stage too, scenes are repeated multiple times. At first it’s just the odd word or action which is excised, before whole lives are torn out of reality for the smallest criticism of the all-powerful regime.

As Smith falls in love with the rebellious Julia, the pair retreat into a haven hidden from both the authorities and the audience where they can enjoy forbidden pleasures and plot against the hated Thought Police.

Everything is captured by hidden cameras and broadcast on a large screen, making the audience complicit in the spying process, before the bolthole is blown apart by blank-faced stormtroopers.

There then follows a violent and visceral visit to the infamous Room 101, which leaves many gasping at the raw brutality on show, before a sting in the tale questions whether the freedom we hold so dear is merely an illusion.

It’s tense and disturbing stuff which is beautifully acted - particularly by Mark Arends as Smith - and staged with precision by co-creators Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan.

It’s a lesson in political spin that should be required viewing for all.