Back to Dale Reynolds' Reviews - Home

1984 (Broad Stage)

“1984,” based, of course, on George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel of a world made up of six “countries” all ruled by dictatorship-cabals and a futile resistance-movement it easily crushes, is set in the former Great Britain, now re-labeled (in government Newspeak), Airstrip One, a provincial part of the superstate Oceania (along with the former USA), in which our nominal hero, Winston Smith, works for the Ministry of Truth.  His job, ironically, it is to erase all history of those considered Enemies of the State.  But Smith is in a dither:  should be join the resistance, or continue unfettered in his morally objectionable job.

He meets a member of the Anti-Sex squad, falls in love with her, only to be betrayed in the end.  The folk in charge, who are the Totalitarians, are cleverer than those who desire a return to Freedoms they had taken too much for granted, but are defeated day-by-day by the State. These leaders have created a world of constant war, perpetual government surveillance, and continuous political propaganda, with which they maintain total control of the populace.  The constant spying on the people, under the rubric of “Big Brother Is Watching You,” terrifies the people, keeping them in constant nerve-wracking anxiety, allowing the minority leadership to continue in power.  They manage this, specifically, by persecuting those who would think for themselves, labeling them as guilty of “thoughtcrime.”

Orwell based his antagonists after the horrors of Fascism as well as the on-going (at that time) totalitarian rule of the Communist Party in Russia.  Adaptors and co-directors Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillian have severely presented this to us direct from their successful West End run by Headlong Productions, the Nottingham Playhouse and the Almeida Theatre. 

Orwell’s classic has been given a head-strong production at the Broad, on a practical set, using digital cameras to show other rooms (designed by Chloe Lamford).  Winston (Matthew Spencer) is average height, weight and look, a slender man with thinning hair – a perfect everyman.  His compatriots at work, Parsons (Simon Coates), O’Brien (Tim Dutton), Charrington (Stephen Fewell), Syme (Ben Porter) and garrulous Mrs. Parsons (Mandi Symonds) all lack focus, as they have been emotionally and effectively beaten.  Only Julia (Hana Yannas) is his equal, but she is doomed along with him.

This production – in all its excessive glory – couldn’t come at a more fitting time in world history, with the forces of repression beginning to assert themselves around the world, and here at home.  Surely Trump and Cruz and the more egregious enemies of personal freedom in this country have knowledge of Orwell’s successful book or, perhaps, the 1956 film version (director: Michael Anderson, with Edmund O’Brien in the Winston Smith role) and/or the more-daring 1984 version (director: Michael Radford, with John Hurt in the lead).

Read into this production as one might wish, but it’s a scary and depressing tale very well told by a talented group of Brits.  It helps us all to be aware of the fragility of democracy and the failure of citizens to combat those who would impose their fault-line political views on everyone else.  Heed Thomas Jefferson’s prophetic line:  “Timid men prefer the calm of Despotism over the boisterous sea of Liberty.”

 “1984” plays through February 6, 2016 at the Broad Stage, 11th & Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica.  Tickets:  310.434.3200 or