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George Orwell’s 1984 at Hackney Town Hall – Immersive Experience

You love Big Brother. Or at least you are meant to by the end of this ‘immersive’ adaptation of the Orwell classic, and I am not entirely sure I did.

1984 - Photo credit The Other Richard.
1984 – Photo credit The Other Richard.

Winston, the hero of our piece, is a fairly regular employee of the Ministry of Truth, diligently re-writing history to reflect current ideology. But he has a wondering mind, he can’t help but remember that it was not that long ago that Oceania was at war with Eurasia, not the Far East. He meets someone, in passing and then again, an alternative thinker, lover and fellow rebel. They meet in a flat and find some small luxury in spite of the world they live in, but of course, Big Brother knows best and luxury is short-lived.

When you arrive at the venue, ID numbers are pinned on and we are treated to a rendition of the Oceania national anthem. The dystopian fiction where we are to be assessed.

The first part of the ‘immersive’ experience, is to fill out a questionnaire, we are then treated to a lecture about the origins of the party. The writing certainly commits wholeheartedly to an overly demonstrative showing of what Newspeak is, who Big Brother is and quite expositionally telling the audience what we need to know to get the world of 1984.

From there, you are asked to make your way downstairs, into a hall where a scene takes place, then back upstairs for the famous interrogation scene and that’s it.

Excited by the prospect of being assessed, then either accepted or denied by The Ministry of Truth I filled out my questionnaire with enthusiasm. I spent a lot of the first half an hour of the play waiting for when we would get involved. I was happy to sit through some quite clunky exposition so that when we, the audience, got involved, we would understand the world. When O’Brien (the party enforcer), offers us a choice whether or not to participate in Winston’s interrogation, I left, ready for an alternative strand of narrative, that finally gave agency to us in this so-called immersive piece. But this did not happen, I walked into the hallway, which was empty and had to wait awkwardly for a couple of minutes before the scene ended and re-join the only pathway of the play.

And that’s where the problem with this play is. That it is a play, not an immersive theatre. Beyond a questionnaire at the beginning and fleeting moments of audience interaction, this play has about as many immersive characteristics as a pantomime. It is just a play where you are asked to get up and walk into a different room to see the next scene. If you are of a cynical tendency like I am, you think that they just slapped some cheap characteristics of immersive theatre on it so that they could call it an ‘immersive 1984’. I thought there would be agency, I thought you would get an opportunity to join a rebellion, before being put on trial by your fellow theatregoers, I thought maybe you would actually get the results of the assessment you were promised, but none of these were remotely within the realms of this ‘immersive’ play.

Aside this, the scenes we stand around watching fulfilled their purpose. They went through the motions of a stage adaptation of 1984. The actors showed the necessary, charisma or idealism that we understood who they were in the Orwellian narrative, but there was very little to write home about in this play.

2 gold stars

Review by Tom Carter

Everything you say or do is scrutinised.
Even your innermost thoughts are probed.
You cannot be too careful.
In an age when we are tracked and monitored, Orwell’s vision has never been closer to reality.
In the magnificent Hackney Town Hall, experience this gripping story.

Jude Akuwudike – O’Brien
Kit Reeve – Julia
Declan Rodgers – Winston

Richard Hahlo – Co-Director
Jem Wall – Co-Director
Thor McIntyre-Burnie – Sound Designer
Jonathan Simpson – Lighting Designer
Jeroen van Dooren – Set Designer
James Dawson -Production Manager
Naomi Shanson – Stage Manager
Tom Sergeant – Technical Stage Manager
Natalie Evans – Technical Swing
Madeleine Wilson – Producer
Tandem Marketing Worldwide – Marketing
Kate Morley PR – Press
Hero Social – Social Media
Amalia Vitale – Movement Director
Jonathan Waller – Fight Director
Christina Fulcher – Intimacy Director
Karo Chrzanowska – Front of House Manager
Bryony Purdue – Jazz Musician
Ivy Knights – Jazz Musician
Louise Messenger – Jazz Musician
Akil Henry – Accompanist
Barny Jones – Accompanist
Chris Jerome – Accompanist
Ms Daniella Teal – Accompanist
Sam Watts – Accompanist
Tash Pan – Accompanist
Thomas McBrien – Accompanist


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