Interview: theatremaker Robert Icke on adapting George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four

'We looked more to other art forms for inspiration: the films of Kubrick and David Lynch, box sets like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, video games like Grand Theft Auto and Fallout'

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Photo © Tristram Kenton

Jointly created by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan, Headlong's adaptation of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four has been praised for its energy and finding new ideas in a familiar tale. Applying a contemporary sensitivity, the classic tale of totalitarian control has been given a new resonance in the age of WikiLeaks and social media. Robert Icke explains how they approached the iconic novel.

Where did your inspiration to take on Big Brother come from? Was it Orwell or the current surveillance culture?
Both of those, and I suppose an instinct that there might be more in the novel to discover. It felt like a text that was known in outline better than known in detail – and discovering that detail, as with Shakespeare, can be a great place to begin.

What influenced the production?
Duncan and I looked more to other art forms for inspiration: the films of Kubrick and David Lynch, box sets like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, video games like Grand Theft Auto and Fallout.

Is theatre a good place for the discussion of ideas?
Absolutely.

Since there is already a film, why adapt for theatre? Does it bring a new layer to the tale?
I haven't seen the film but theatre is the perfect medium for a story which at every turn questions what's real and what's true: all theatre is Orwellian doublethink – you know that the actor is the actor, but you also believe them to be the character. An audience holds the truth and the lie together without one cancelling the other out.

How have audiences been receiving the work?
As Orwell would have wanted: shaken-up.

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, Fri 29 Aug–Sat 6th Sep.

1984 West End Trailer

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