1984 (Headlong-Plymouth Theatre Royal)

1984 proves most unsatisfactory at Plymouth Theatre Royal.

1984 is brilliant material with iconic substance but the Headlong/ Nottingham Playhouse/Almeida Theatre offering is unfortunately not at all engaging. Such a shame (or am I just a Thought Criminal?).

 Please note this is of the original cast and not the current touring version
Please note this is of the original cast and not the current touring version

Robert Icke (who also direcst)and Duncan Macmillan have created what would pass as an overly-long trailer to the main feature – highlights here and there in real time, past time and on film – which serve to give an overview of Orwell’s dystopian nightmare but fails, in my opinion, to capture the essence.

More Clockwork Orange meets Saw..

A clever vehicle – the melding of past and present through the medium of a book club dissection – allows the audience to accept the timelessness of the piece and the script certainly promotes the subtle humour that is all too often missed however in order to achieve exactly 101 uninterrupted minutes much is sacrificed.

We get only a glimpse of the stark fearful world of the world of Big Brother and don’t really get to know Winston as his memories and angsts are all too fleetingly visited, with much of his character-building moments awkwardly presented in sepia on screen while his slow burn rebellion is fast forwarded.

Matthew Spencer is believable as the protagonist but not given any chance to develop the much-needed bond with the onlookers who are cast in the role of Thought Police spying on the lovers in what they believe is a safe hideaway.

Julia (a capable debut by Janine Harouni), the rebel from the waist down, is equally 2D with her spirit unexplored and her character wanting leading to audience detachment during the horrors unleashed on the dissenting lovers and indifference to the betrayal otherwise so devastating in the novel.

Debutant Andre Flynn is appositely robotic as the mysterious Martin while George Potts is Ground Hog Day Parsons, all but bursting with pride over his indoctrinated Midwich Cuckoo-like seven-year-old.

Tim Dutton is a slick O’Brien whose double-crossing adherence to the Inner Party is cold and nasty but hardly surprising – due entirely to the self-imposed shortness of the piece.

Chloe Lamford‘s set moves the action seamlessly from office to home, from railway station to Room 101 while Natasha Chivers‘ lighting rounds out the scene with gentle glow or stark LED.

Too many iconic moments and images are lost in the race to the 101st minute with the programme left to fill in far too many gaps.

Too much clever double think and too little foundation building for me