By Harry Forbes
With so many speaking of “1984” parallels in today’s political landscape, here’s an austere, high-tech dramatization of George Orwell’s 1949 novel about a totalitarian, dystopian future.
It comes to Broadway after runs at London’s Almeida and The Playhouse Theatres.
Tom Sturridge, recently such a fine Henry VI in the Shakespeare series, “The Hollow Crown” on PBS, and last on Broadway in the 2013 revival of “Orphans,” in a performance which earned him a Tony nomination, gives an admirably intense performance as Winston Smith, the rebellious Ministry of Truth worker eventually brainwashed and tortured to be in line with the beliefs of the Party and the unseen Big Brother. He uses a flawless American accent to match his castmates.
Olivia Wilde is also excellent as Julia, the Anti-Sex League worker, whom Winston initially fears is spying on him, but with whom he then engages in a passionate, forbidden affair in the backroom on an antiques shop offered to them by Charrington (Michael Potts). But little do they know that their love-making is being captured on the giant telescreens run by the Party.
Strobe lights and jarring sounds abound, while giant monitors broadcast the considerable offstage action, as when Winston and Julia have their trysts in the backrooms. (The scenic design is by Chloe Lamford, video design by Tim Reid, sound by Tom Gibbons, and lighting by Natasha Chivers.)
The presentational style here makes it rather difficult to empathize with Winston’s plight, though Sturridge certainly cuts a pathetic figure as he’s subjected to all manner of torture.
Reed Birney is chilling as the seemingly mild-mannered O’Brien who turns out to be a ruthless agent of the inner Party and Winston’s harsh interrogator.
There’s good work too from the other cast members including Wayne Duvall, Carl Hendrick Louis, Nick Mills, and Cara Seymour.
The adaptation, which covers the broad strokes of the novel’s plot, is the work of Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillan who also direct, and plays for 101 intermission-less minutes. If you haven’t read the book in a while, you may find the narrative a bit difficult to follow (as I must confess, I did) given the stylized presentation.
Be warned, the violence is fairly graphic, with plenty of stage blood and such, no doubt the principal reason children under 13 are not admitted, but theatergoers with a hardy constitution will find the production an absorbing and intense if sobering experience.
(Hudson Theatre, 139-141 West 44th Street; 212-239-6200 or telecharge.com)
Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes