Last Saturday, I went to see 1984. The thing that the play managed to do the most successfully for me, was to make me want to read the book again immediately. Which is just as well, because it’s on my utopian reading list. But, is that necessarily a good thing?
The play itself was, as other reviews splattered across the marketing for the play have so eloquently put, fast-paced and engaging for being so. There was scarcely enough time to get yourself comfortable before the action started, and the ingenious set design was a massive highlight of the show. But there was one major let-down: it required an incredibly comprehensive knowledge of the book to get the most out of it. And I can’t help but feeling one of the main reasons I want to reread, is to check some of the gaps left by the production.
I went with my boyfriend, who himself had never read the book – I, on the other hand, as an English student, would probably be locked up in Azkaban if I hadn’t, and I’ve also seen a production of the play at the University of Nottingham’s New Theatre. But this one seemed to skate over the main plot with brief (and clever, I hasten to add) plot allusions. For example, (SPOILER ALERT) it was never really explained that the photograph in the antiques shop was actually a telescreen used to betray Winston and Julia, and for someone encountering the story for the first time, that can be rather disengaging. In short, ends were never tied up, and instead, the audience’s previous knowledge and preconceptions were heavily relied on. And having seen the production at the student theatre before, which managed to explain the plot very well, I don’t believe that this is a necessary staging issue of the novel.
I thoroughly enjoyed it, and there were some really fantastic moments, not least of which were the cleverly staged torture scenes. But with novels such as 1984 being proclaimed as ‘timeless’, how can a play of the work ever expect to reach a wider audience if its clear target audience is those who are already engaged by the book?
(Image from the Nottingham Playhouse website)