Though George Orwell’s novel “1984” was originally published in 1949, and the version that just launched on Broadway began its life in London several years ago, the production appears uniquely suited for this year in politics in the western world.
The production by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan, which had its official debut in New York last week, stars , stars Tony winner Reed Birney, Tony nominee Tom Sturridge, and Olivia Wilde in her Broadway debut. It made some headlines last week with the announcement that it would refuse entry to patrons under a certain age after some episodes of fainting in the audience, but early reviews belie the view that this was just a publicity stunt.
“In periods when the world and its inhabitants seem too vicious to bear, some people find themselves drawn magnetically to what might be called feel-bad entertainment,” writes Ben Brantley in the New York Times. “I mean the sort of book, song or show that massages your anxiety the way your tongue might insistently probe an abscessed tooth.
“If that’s the way you’re feeling at the moment — and why do I suspect that’s the case? — you may well find pleasurable pain in Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s discombobulating stage adaptation of George Orwell’s “1984,” which opened on Thursday night at the Hudson Theater. But it will be pain of a different order (possibly involving nausea) from the empathetic kind you experience reading Orwell’s ever-engrossing book.”
He goes on to praise much of the performances, but does caution the potential audience that the interrogation scenes that make up much of the final stage of the work, are quite graphic. Anecdotally, I have a family member involved in theatre who heard similar reports from a friend of hers, and that his stomach is not generally of the queasy variety.
The consensus appears that the work is hard to stomach and disorienting, but that is essentially the whole point of the effort. The audience doesn’t know what or who to trust, and has to make its own way through the dark and disturbing world that Orwell created, and Icke and Macmillan extended without deliberate or obvious parallels to our current world, save for those the audience wishes to make on its own.
For those who wish to step into Orwell’s unsettling world, visit TicketClub.com to find tickets to 1984’s limited run at the Millenium Hudson Theatre.