This review was originally written for the Londonist
The use of cardboard was what made this Blind Summit / BAC production shine for us. Just plain old brown card that threw fabulous shapes. From simple sign posts to junk shop ephemera, and from articulated wildlife to little old men, the cardboard was brilliant. Favourite card sequences included an early one where the thought criminal (Winston) and the whore (Julia) meet clandestinely in a forest populated by cardboard owls, rabbits and song thrushes.
Another was our first encounter with Charrington in his junk shop. The elderly shop owner was a magnificently operated puppet, with soft body and an angular, oversized cardboard head. A third was a condensed version of an illicit text by the elusive Goldstein. It was played out behind a bed sheet, the ideas explained frantically with various cardboard props. 1984 is not purely made of card though and relies mainly on human rather than puppet performance. It’s performed by a seven person strong cast and, intentionally no doubt, the main protagonists are very rarely alone on stage.
The play is pretty funny at points, especially in the first half, but it’s comedy edged with a chill. Stripped down, the costumes and set are minimal but the characters are caricatures, loud and exaggerated. Despite the simple set, it’s a busy and noisy production and at points confusing. The actors’ movements are well choreographed but their lines are delivered with a ferocity that feels like you’re being shouted at. We wondered whether it was necessary to bellow stage directions at the audience.
1984 is a dense, heavy going novel and translating it to the stage is a challenge. We liked this play but weren’t totally satisfied by it. Though fans of the card, we weren’t completely convinced by the people inhabiting the cardboard world or the decision to make the story comic. It is worth seeing though, especially as it’s an excuse to spend an evening at lovely BAC.