From the moment the lights go out and the creepy synth begins to rumble, Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s 1984 brutally and brilliantly flings the audience headlong into George Orwell’s world of depressive repression.
Big Brother is always watching, made evident by the menacing, ever-present screen overseeing the rebellious actions of our hero Winston.
The crowd at the Playhouse Theatre is immediately inserted into the mental trappings of this skilled but reluctant re-writer of history, as a small camera captures Winston scrawling in his diary from his point of view.
He writes down the date, and then he scribbles it out because in 1984, nobody knows what date it is. But it doesn’t matter. He exists to carry out the will of The Party.
Icke and Macmillan assault the audience with a mixture of sudden darkness and painfully bright, flashing lights teamed with piercing high-frequency buzzing and stomach-battering distortions to portray the painful oppression.
It’s a production that burns the eyes and ears, punishing the onlookers for daring to bring their open minds and democratic values into the theatre.
It’s a riveting ride through Orwell’s classic tale that takes you through conflicting ideals – hope and despair, free thought and repression, love and betrayal.
The brilliant, abusive lighting and sound is accompanied by a cast full of engrossing performances, notably Andrew Gower, Hilton McRae and Catrin Stewart.
Andrew’s Winston is the embodiment of confliction, desperation and misery. You hear the pain in his voice and see it in his eyes as he wrestles with himself in a world he hates, as The Party’s use of doublethink plays havoc with his mind – two plus two is four and also five.
This is all brought to vivid fruition in a violent torture scene, the highlight of the play.
Catrin plays Julia with confident self-assurance, starting off as the lead rebel in a relationship taboo relationship with Winston before becoming a tad more reluctant when he wants to go deeper than just the occasional shag and sharing of chocolate treats.
But the final act certainly belongs to Hilton McRae - a cold, calculating and charismatic portrayal of the intellectual antagonist O’Brien
Good plays entertain, great plays immerse and engross as well. 1984 is in the latter category.
It’ll leave you warily eyeing the CCTV cameras while walking home through Canary Wharf at night, looking at the ground and blanking your thoughts as security strolls by, telling yourself over and over again: “Two plus two is definitely four.”
Performing until Saturday, October 29, from £19.84 at Playhouse Theatre
Follow The Wharf on Twitter @the_wharf
Keep up to date with all our articles on Facebook