George Orwell’s dystopian classic, 1984, has made the transition from page to stage with this year’s production from the Hudson Theatre. Holding no punches, it’s a gritty, deeply disturbing look at a world gone mad. Starring Tom Sturridge and Olivia Wilde, 1984 on Broadway also one of the must-see shows on the Great White Way.
Here’s why you’ll love 1984 on Broadway, even though doing so is entirely unpleasant.
The Super Stressful Plot
For those of you who haven’t read the novel—or who barely remember it from high school English class—George Orwell’s 1949 classic 1984 takes place in what used to be London, now Airstrip One, ruled by a totalitarian government with omnipresent surveillance powers. Winston Smith, whose job at the Ministry of Truth sees him rewriting articles to ensure everything matches the current party line. He falls in love with Julia, another government worker, and the two set out to join the mysterious rebellion against the even-more mysterious party leader, Big Brother. It’s an unsettling plot riddled with intensely creepy moments and full-on torture.
For this new production, the setting has changed to America. Also tweaked is the time period. The play begins in 2050, as a book club reading 1984, presented as a real diary, debates how reliable Winston is, and how much of what he said took place.
The Staging is Just as Scary
Chloe Lamford’s set design is sparse, but the theme of surveillance is constant. Windows in the back allow passersby to peer in, and a massive screen projects government propaganda videos. Much of the story takes place in the back room of an antique shop, where Winston and Julia carry out their affair without the worry of “telescreens,” the Party’s monitoring devices. Set offstage, the room appears to audiences on the screen instead, begging the question of how private the room actually is (spoiler alert: it isn’t).
But most upsetting are the lighting and sound, designed by Natasha Chivers and Tom Gibbons, respectively. Piercing light occasionally flashes into the audience, along with saw-like, metallic sounds which blare from the speakers. There’s no sitting easy during this show, as your body is on alert the whole time.
The Conversations it Sparks
1984 leaves audiences gasping—fainting and vomiting have also occurred, thanks largely to the sensory overload and torture scenes. But it also leaves them desperate to talk about their reactions: what should Winston have done? What could he have done? How can societies avoid the pitfalls Orwell warns us against? Is it too late?
Trust us, after seeing 1984 on Broadway, you’ll be wanting a stiff drink and a comfortable, soothing setting. Swing by Charlie Palmer at the Knick, on our 4th floor, for both.