The Broadway adaptation of George Orwell’s dystopian classic ‘1984,’ is causing quite a response in audience members. The play opened late last week starring Olivia Wilde and Tom Sturridge. Reports include audience members vomiting, fainting and screaming as a reaction to the play’s extreme torture scenes.
Honoring Orwell’s novel
‘1984’ was never going to have a breezy rom-com vibe on Broadway. But the adaptation of George Orwell’s 1949 classic, is generating queasy responses from audience members.
The production by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan premiered on London’s West End in 2014. Now it’s touring Australia in a co-production between the State Theatre Company of South Australia and the Sydney Theatre Company.
The play finally landed late last week in Broadway and caused the same effects on viewers.
Orwell’s novel follows the character of Winston, a lowly government worker with fantasies of rebellion, sparked by an illicit love affair. The main character is corralled into torture for treason, which includes electroshock and clawing-rats-to-the-face.
The production arrived at Broadway by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan who co-adapted and co-directed the production. ‘1984’ marked Olivia Wilde’s Broadway debut. Where she stars alongside British actor Tom Sturridge, Wayne Duvall, Carl Hendrick Louis, Nick Mills, Michael Potts, and Cara Seymour.
The production first previewed May 18 and left audience shocked. Then it opened on June 22 at the Hudson Theater. The timing makes the show one of the first to open during the 2017-18 season.
A true shocker for the audience
The production doesn’t fall short on taking its audience to feel the horrors of a totalitarian system.
The play’s tickets warn the audience about “flashing lights, strobe effects, loud noises, gunshots, smoking and graphic depictions of violence and torture.” No one under 13 will be admitted.
The most distressing and “increasingly queasy” torture scene — where actor Reed Birney calls on a team of men in hazmat suits to torture the character Winston, played by Tom Sturridge. — Had an attendee pleading with Birney to stop the torture. Tom Sturridge even broke his nose during rehearsal, and Olivia Wilde broke her tailbone and split her lip.
Through the play, the cast hopes to open people’s eyes
It’s no secret that the installation of the Trump administration has people worried about the future of the country. But cast members hope to open people’s eyes and empowering them with the production. Star Olivia Wilde, who plays Winston’s fellow resistance Julia, said at the opening: “We’re hopefully allowing people to contextualize everything that they’re experiencing every day.”
She carried on saying, “There’s a lot of rage, fear, and confusion, and sometimes art is the way we find perspective during these times. It feels intense because I know the audience is consuming it from a very specific state of mind.”
British star Tom Sturridge pointed out to the political times we’re living and said “The political systems everywhere seem totally insane. When I was in England, I was going, ‘What’s going on in America?’ Now I’m here going, ‘What the hell is going on at home?”
But the directors added that despite the Trump Presidency being the catalyst for the show’s arrival to Broadway. They didn’t want ‘1984’ to be perceived as being a leading component of the resistance.Icke said: “It’s a book that has been claimed by the left and the right and they’re both right. Our job is not to let our own political ideology get in the way of Orwell.
“It’s a classic not because it’s an attack on a potential futuristic socialist government and not because it’s an attack on a right-wing totalitarian stripping away of rights. It’s about that doublethink of carrying contradictory thoughts simultaneously,” added McMillan.
The “Trump bump”
George Orwell’s iconic novel is set in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain), a province of the superstate Oceania in a world of perpetual war. With Omnipresent government surveillance, and public manipulation. The superstate and its residents are dictated by a political regime euphemistically named English Socialism, shortened to “Ingsoc” in Newspeak, the government’s invented language.
Interesing enough, Orwell’s novel skyrocketed in the wake of Donald Trump’s US election win last November. The book received a “Trump bump” in January, selling out on Amazon just days after a comment from Trump’s adviser. Kellyanne Conway used the phrase “alternative facts” to defend inaccurate claims over his inauguration audience figures and people went crazy.
Earlier this month, Olivia Wilde appeared on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show where she talked up the adaptation’s timely currency.
“It’s so relevant that it’s really disturbing,” Wilde said. “It feels relevant in different ways, depending on what you think of [Trump], but it’s definitely something that is universally important: that we are powerful as individuals, and that we must question everything.”