As with Animal Farm, there are many elements of 1984 that are familiar to the general public, but while they are important, Room 101 and Big Brother are by no means the central focus of George Orwell’s prophetic tale.
This is a new adaptation, featuring former Doctor Who lead Christopher Eccelston as Smith, with Pippa Nixon as Julia, and Tim Pigott-Smith making a chilling O’Brien almost because of the man’s banality. The best-known parts of the book form the final third of the two-hour play, but there is so much to glean from the preceding section, in terms of Orwell’s warnings about the breaking down of what makes us human. Neither Winston nor Julia realise just how far they have come even before they are brought into the Ministry of Love.
The play is graphic in its depictions of bodily functions, particularly when they are the result of fear, and the torture sequences are as terrifying to hear as they are on the printed page. The final meeting between Winston and Julia – which combines two scenes from the original novel – emphasises how damaged each now is.
Verdict: It’s not a pleasant listen, and nor should it be. Eccleston and Pigott-Smith join an illustrious roster of Smith/O’Briens, notably Peter Cushing/Andre Morell and John Hurt/Richard Burton. 8/10
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