Review: ‘1984’ at the Hudson Theatre

One of the most fascinating items on the Broadway scene is the current production of a British import, 1984. Co-adapted from the 1949 novel of George Orwell by Duncan Macmillan and Robert Icke, it stands as a powerful and frighteningly relevant, if somewhat fantastical, take on our world. When the novel first appeared in 1949, Orwell offered us his version of 1984, as he projected it to be 35 years in the future. Now, in the Macmillan-Icke adaptation currently running at the beautifully renovated Hudson Theatre, it is set fifty years from now, so it looks back 33 years to 1984. Orwell’s world is the result of a rise in far-right totalitarian political movements, when Thinkspeak was the new language and headlines screamed “War Is Peace, Freedom Is Slavery, and Ignorance Is Strength.”

The cast of 1984. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

As the play begins, in the mid-21st Century, Winston Smith is starting a diary recounting his experiences in the peak years of his youth, when he was singled out for transformation into a member of The Party, which ruled everything and everyone. In the frightening year of 1984, Winston is engaged in an illegal, passionate love affair with Julia, who has also been living a life that is totally antithetical to everything she believes. When Winston and Julia leave the stage for some privacy, so they can indulge in some highly-charged and illegal sexual activity, we go with them and their scenes are played out on film.

As Big Brother has been watching, the two are caught and Winston has been selected for unspeakable torture so that he can be transformed into a Believer in Big Brother and The Party. He will survive so he can live long enough to present us with his diary, or we might never have known what havoc was introduced in George Orwell’s vision of the dangers that are being brewed even now.

A man simply called “O’Brien” is his mentor, his sponsor, who explains what the Party’s slogans mean. He tells Winston that if people remain in constant battle with non-believers, they will not quit The Party, for War is the only Peace. If they remain ignorant, they will not leave The Party; therefore, Ignorance is Strength. If they become slave to their lovers or to their own ideas, they will not accept that The Party’s one Idea is the only reality. The Party creates these slogans, and others, to ensure the continuation of their power and control.

Olivia Wilde as Julia, Tom Sturridge as Winston, and the cast of 1984. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

O’Brien, Julia and Winston could not be in better hands. Reed Birney, Olivia Wilde (making her Broadway debut), and Tom Sturridge play the three central roles impeccably. Mr. Birney spouts his total conviction that his thoughts are not to be questioned, that they are the gospel. Elegantly dressed in cool gray, his logic is difficult to attack; when Winston resists, he commands protectively-suited guards to inflict gruesome torture upon him.

The original design team – Chloe Lamford (sets and costumes), Natasha Civers (lighting), Tom Gibbons (sound), and Tim Reid (video) – has joined Duncan MacMillan and Robert Icke to produce a multi-cultural epic that uses all its elements to great effect.

This piece is hardly “entertainment,” but it is engrossing, exciting, and interesting at all times. It is pure theatre all the way and, as such, one hopes it enjoys a successful run. Prepare yourself for some discomfort, but if you are interested in seeing how one writer envisioned our future if we don’t keep a constant vigil, 1984 is an experience you won’t want to miss.

Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes, with one intermission.

1984 plays indefinitely at the Hudson Theatre, 139-141 West 44th Street, in New York, NY. For tickets, call the box office at (855) 801-5876, or purchase them online.



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Richard Seff
RICHARD SEFF has been working in theatre since he made his acting debut in support of Claude Rains in the prize winning DARKNESS AT NOON, and he agreed to tour the next season in support of Edward G. Robinson, which took him across the nation and back for nine months. When it was over and he was immediately offered another national tour with THE SHRIKE with Van Heflin, he decided to explore other areas, and he spent the next 22 years representing artists in the theatre as an agent, where he worked at Liebling-Wood, MCA, eventually a partnership of his own called Hesseltine-Bookman and Seff, where he discovered and developed young talents like Chita Rivera, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Ron Field, Linda Lavin, Nancy Dussault and many others. He ultimately sold his interest to ICM. When he completed his contractual obligation to that international agency, he returned to his first love, acting and writing for the theatre. In that phase of his long and varied life, he wrote a comedy (PARIS IS OUT!) which brightened the 1970 season on Broadway for 107 performances. He became a successful supporting player in film, tv and onstage, and ultimately wrote a book about his journey, SUPPORTING PLAYER: MY LIFE UPON THE WICKED STAGE, still popular with older theatre lovers and youngsters who may not yet know exactly where they will most sensibly and profitably fit into the world of show business. The book chronicles a life of joyous work working in a favored profession in many areas, including leading roles in the regional theatres in his work in Lanford Wilson's ANGELS FALL. His last stage role was in THE COUNTESS in which he played Mr. Ruskin for 9 months off Broadway. Five seasons ago Joel Markowitz suggested he join him at DCTheatreScene. His accurate and readable reviews of the New York Scene led, when the time was right, for his joining DCMetroTheaterArts to continue bringing news of the Big Apple's productions just to keep you posted. He is delighted to be able to join DCMTA and work with Joel and hopes that you like what he has to say.


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