“Immersive 1984” is an unsettling journey into Orwell’s dystopian world, cleverly staged in the grand setting of the Hackney Town Hall. While it effectively immerses you in the world of Big Brother, it doesn’t fully delve into the book’s intricate themes. Nonetheless, it offers a very different, memorable theatrical experience.
On a personal note, my upbringing exposed me to stories of an all-seeing regime, secret police, and mass surveillance, mirroring Orwell’s Oceania. The echoes of my parents’ past under Poland’s communist regime always left me uneasy. If you’ve had a similar background in a totalitarian-ruled country, this immersive show may hit close to home, as it did for me at times.
Let’s start with some key points.
- Is “Immersive 1984” a true representation of George Orwell’s “1984”? Not exactly, it leans more towards a narrative loosely inspired by the book’s world.
- Did it deliver the emotional impact I anticipated? Yes, especially in the final scene involving the audience.
- Was the choice of venue suitable? Hackney Town Hall hosts a show of this kind for the first time, and it’s a great fit. The Assembly Hall, in particular, exudes a grand and government-like atmosphere. Even the marble art deco corridors leave a strong impression.
- Can you grasp the show’s plot without having read the book? Absolutely. In fact, you might even enjoy it more if you’re unfamiliar with Orwell’s original story. The play omits some crucial themes and scenes, so those familiar with the book might be less disappointed.
What’s the concept of “Immersive 1984”?
As a participant of this experience, you are welcomed into the Ministry of Truth as a new recruit, and this involves undergoing actual tests, so be prepared (mentally, as the pen and paper will be waiting)!
You take on the role of an observer in a “real-life” case that centers on Winston and Julia, both employees of the Ministry. They have been accused of doubting the Party and engaging in an illicit physical relationship.
O’Brien (played by Jude Akuwudike), who serves as a guide and almost acts like a preacher for Big Brother, the all-powerful leader of the ruling Party, leads you through the entire process. This includes witnessing the case’s beginning and the intense procedure of “fixing” the couple in the Ministry of Love, which culminates in the notorious Room 101.
Psychological Terror Takes Centre Stage
The thematic focus of “Immersive 1984” lies in psychological terror rather than gratuitous gore or horror. Torture scenes, though extensive, refrain from showing any blood, delivering a far more chilling experience that taps into human fears and mental torment.
While the show captures the essence of Orwell’s dystopia, it does omit significant portions of the book. Notably, the secret Brotherhood and the intrigue around it are conspicuously absent, eliminating the suspense and hidden agendas that are core to the novel’s plot. In this show, there are no veils, no secrets kept in the shadows; everything is under the stark glare of the stage lights.
How “immersive” is this production?
The term “immersive” is frequently thrown around in London’s theater scene, but “1984” takes the concept to heart. It doesn’t merely place actors close to the audience; it fully immerses viewers in the oppressive world of the regime.
As an awkward introvert myself, I think it’s important to mention that audience participation isn’t forced; significant involvement is reserved for volunteers.
However, while the immersive element is present, it seems to replace a more substantial narrative. The entire experience comprises just three scenes (along with a video displayed on a projector screen), and it leaves out the complexity and many of the original book’s messages and plots.
Granted, the show is a mere 75 minutes long, which is quite short for a performance that includes transitioning between rooms in addition to the actual show. In the end, it becomes more of an exploration of Orwell’s universe rather than a traditional play.
I must admit that knowing the show was intended to be multi-room, I was a bit underwhelmed when I discovered that the entire show occurred in only two locations. Additionally, even though the large group of participants (80-100 people) was divided into three smaller groups (Green, Blue, and Red), there was no variation in the experience; everyone followed the same path, and there was no real opportunity to encounter something different. There was theoretically an option to exit the room at the beginning for anyone uncomfortable with participating in the investigation process, but honestly, I didn’t see anyone choose this option.
The show takes place in various settings within Hackney Town Hall, incorporating a combination of seating and standing scenes, with some stair-climbing involved. There’s also a lift available for those in need.
The Chilling Dynamics of “1984” Characters and Cast
The connection between Winston (played by Declan Rodgers) and Julia (portrayed by Kit Reeve) is palpable and physical, with the actors skilfully depicting their relationship without the need for explicit nudity.
However, we don’t get to explore much about their backgrounds beyond their work and the hastily formed relationship. The only tidbit we receive is Winston’s fear of rats. I did find myself sympathising with Winston during his final scenes in the show, but there’s room for improvement with more robust character development.
Jude Akuwudike shines as the star of this immersive experience. He combines the commanding presence of a skilled preacher with the calculated approach of someone like Hannibal Lecter. His rendition of the infamous “How many fingers am I holding up” scene was a truly chilling moment to witness.
The ensemble, dressed in tracksuits, effectively maintains an aura of authority and conformity, despite many of them being considerably younger than the audience. Their demeanor shifts from friendly interactions with the audience during the introductory scene in a concert hall to a display of serious power and occasional shouting as the “recruits” undergo testing. Their presence and attitude contribute significantly to the tense atmosphere of the experience, particularly during the initial recruitment moments.
“1984” is an immersive experience that delivers a powerful, intense interpretation of Orwell’s dystopian world, albeit with some notable omissions from the original plot. It is not for the faint of heart, focusing on mental and emotional terror rather than graphic violence, providing a chilling perspective on the enduring relevance of Orwell’s cautionary tale.
*I received the ticket to see the show in exchange for an honest review
19 October – 26 November 2023, 7:00pm and 9:00pm
Running Time: 75 Minutes
Age: Advised 14+. Anyone under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult.