Tag Archives: George Orwell

“Down & Out in Paris and London” at the New Diorama Theatre

In 90 minutes of theatre that packs a punch, David Byrne brings George Orwell’s titular memoir, about living in poverty in Paris, to the stage with energy and invention. And there’s more. Updating the issues and action, the down and out in London comes from investigative journalist Polly Toynbee’s recent book, Hard Work. The two are interwoven with skill and the rewards are plentiful.

There’s a literary and biographical journey here that proves fascinating in its own right. Headed by an excellent performance from Richard Delaney, who we see develop from Eric Blair into Orwell through his time abroad. The degree of sympathy between Orwell and fellow residents in a flea-bitten hotel, or his exhausted kitchen co-workers, shines through. Karen Ascoe, who plays Toynbee, shares the ability to engender a sense of outrage as both retell the depressing consequences of penury. The writers also share a sense of guilt about their time as ‘tourists’ in the different world that the poor inhabit, with a sincerity that is essential to the success of the show.

Andy McLeod and Richard Delaney
Andy McLeod and Richard Delaney

A respectful tone is adopted when representing those the writers met, although it seems fair to say that Orwell’s encounters are more richly painted, especially in his friend Boris, a role embraced by Andy McLeod. With imaginative touches, Byrne, who also directs, has three performers (Mike Aherne, Andrew Stafford-Baker and Stella Taylor) flitting seamlessly from the 1920s to the present day, playing both the rich and the poor. The parallels drawn bring home the hopelessness of poverty and how little has changed for those at the bottom of society, making this an appropriately frustrating piece of theatre that everyone should see.

Until 21 May 2016


Photos by Richard Davenport

“1984” at the Playhouse Theatre

After a successful tour and sell-out run at the Almeida, Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 has arrived in the West End, opening last night at the Playhouse Theatre. It’s a slick affair, all 101 uninterrupted minutes of it, right down to the marketing – rave reviews outside are censored and tickets are on sale for £19.84.

This truly superb adaptation of a classic text is faithful to the original, full of insight and presents a clear interpretation for us to consider. Icke and Macmillan prioritise the appendix to the novel, The Principles of Newspeak, to highlight the text’s status as an historic document read by people in the future.

The show starts with a kind of book club. Anachronistically, our hero (I use the term unreservedly), the ‘author’ Winston Smith, is present and Big Brother looms large. Those discussing the book segue into characters from the story. Orwell has so many ideas, important ones but often abstract, so to extract the drama needed to create a gripping play is an accomplishment. Atmosphere rather than plot is the key and this high-tech production delivers. The set full of surprises, live video work, superb sound and lighting design make this a visceral experience. You’ll want to calm down in a quiet room afterwards.

Not Room 101 of course. The location where the tyrannical regime tortures dissenters is our final destination. From the moment Winston becomes a ‘thought criminal’ to his capture, the play is appropriately, uncomfortably, powerful and not for the squeamish. The way Big Brother manipulates Winston’s fears is both moving and as powerful as Orwell intended it to be. It’s also wonderfully theatrical – cleverly engaging the audience.

The performances are smooth. Sam Crane plays Smith as confused and petrified from the start (well before any mention of rats) and escalates his performance into something remarkable. His love interest is played by Hara Yannas, who perfectly embodies a distinct kind of rebelliousness. And the rest of the ensemble, including a spookily commanding villain in Tim Dutton’s O’Brien, is well drilled. Icke and Macmillan, who shared the direction, evidently make a superb team.

Until 23 August 2014


Photo by Manuel Harlan

Written 9 May 2014 for The London Magazine