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“Nineteen Eighty-Four,” George Orwell’s parable of the coming of Stalinist totalitarianism to England,is the most significant political novel of the 20thcentury—but one with which many readers are by now so familiar that they can no longer come to it fresh. Adapting it for the stage is one way to restore the immediacy of Orwell’s nightmare vision, but the 2014 West End production of the Robert Icke-Duncan Macmillan stage version, which played on Broadway three years ago, was a bells-and-whistles multimedia extravaganza that strayed too far from the original novel for its own good. Not so Michael Gene Sullivan’s no-frills, six-actor 2006 version, intended for performance on a near-bare stage. The script tracks the book closely, spelling out the once-unprintable obscenities at which Orwell could only hint in 1948, though most everything else, even the telescreens, is left to the imagination.
This strikes me as the right way to go, and the Alley Theatre’s Houston premiere of “1984,” as the stage version is known, should by all rights have been a box-office smash. Alas, the coronavirus closed the theater before the show could open, but the company was able to tape a performance with a three-camera crew, and it is now available as a pay-per-view webcast. Crisp, unflashily photographed and as hard-hitting as a right to the kidney, it comes across with bright clarity on the small screen, and even if you know the novel by heart, I expect that you’ll find it—as one of Orwell’s characters might have put it—tripleplusgood.
The six actors, all of whom are members of the Alley’s resident acting company, play multiple roles save for Shawn Hamilton, who is appropriately fearful and desperate as Winston Smith (you can all but smell the sweat on his brow). Everyone else provides exciting support…
* * *Read the whole thing here. To watch 1984, go here.
Rob Melrose, artistic director of the Alley Theatre and the director of 1984, answers questions about the production: