Review: 1984

Published on August 6, 2017
Categories - Blog, Event Review, Featured

On the last leg of its Australian tour, the stage adaption of George Orwell’s 1984 has arrived in Perth for a limited season. This production is a sure-fire conversation starter; one of those shows you’ll regret not seeing if you miss out.

In 1949 when Orwell’s novel 1984 was published, you may have shaken your head at the absurdity of the text. A dystopian society ruled by a totalitarian government under constant surveillance, with free speech and independent-thought punishable by death.

What an outrageous concept.

But nearly 70 years on, with terms like ‘newspeak’, ‘fakenews’ and ‘telescreens’ all part of our common vernacular, Orwell’s prophecy is all too real.  Since September 11 and the rise of social media, our acceptance of the ‘Big Brother is Watching’ slogan seems to indicate a slow submission to conformity and the dumbing down of citizens in the modern world. Orwell’s fictitious world has become our reality.

In light of this, it’s timely that co-adapters and directors Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillan have reimagined 1984 using state-of-the-art technology to combine conventional theatre with the magic of today’s multimedia capabilities. The script lends itself to the digital age, giving the creative team the opportunity to multi-layer audio visual applications with skill, creating a powerful and visually intriguing piece of modern theatre.


The accomplished cast of nine delivers the dark reverie with discipline and timing, executing deliberate overlapping and glitching like a subliminal message, all whilst restraining emotion and playing out the kind of grey monotony one would expect.

Watching this performance of 1984 is akin to a dose of shock treatment. Big bangs, bright lights, white noise; all set to unnerve and disturb, ensuring the audience of ‘comrades’ remain on high alert.

Tom Conroy plays protagonist Winston Smith, a member of the Outer Party, who works for the Ministry of Truth. Conroy is the standout performer as he works through a full spectrum of emotions, pulling the audience into his inner world of rebellion, frustration, love and vulnerability.

His love interest Julia is played by acclaimed actress Ursula Mills, although her performance falls short in garnering sympathy for her romantic feelings towards Smith.

Being familiar with the novel is not essential, although it will aid the understanding of the more complex themes. It is a striking play that more than achieves its goal to shock and awaken the audience to the reality of Orwell’s warning.

1984 - Renato Musolino, Paul Blackwell, Ursula Mills, Tom Conroy, Guy O'Grady, Fiona Press, Yalin Ozucelik ©Shane Reid 2

1984 – Renato Musolino, Paul Blackwell, Ursula Mills, Tom Conroy, Guy O’Grady, Fiona Press, Yalin Ozucelik – Image by Shane Reid

This stuff is not for the faint-hearted – neither metaphorically, nor physically speaking – but literature lovers and theatre aficionados will respect this version of 1984. It’s disturbingly adept and performance perfect.

Tabetha Beggs

1984 continues at His Majesty’s Theatre until 13 August 2017. 

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