Well-heeled audiences are really having a hard time stomaching the new Broadway adaptation of 1984, with reports that viewers are fainting, vomiting and...getting in fights with each other as a result of its more alarming scenes. Finally, a theatrical production befitting of the times!
Like the book, the play is set in a dystopian future (ha) where critical thought is subdued by a tyrannical and possibly fictional force known as Big Brother. But you already knew all that. To the barfing!
Directed by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan, the staging features disorienting flourishes like strobe lights and jackhammer sound effects, in addition to the gruesome torture scenes plucked from the source material. The New York Times theater critic practically required a fainting couch:
Though I usually don’t provide trigger warnings in my reviews, I feel obliged to do so here. The interrogations that Winston undergoes in the play’s second half are graphic enough to verge on torture porn.
It gets worse! Olivia Wilde, who awesomely selected this production for her Broadway debut, broke her tailbone and split her lip during previews. (Her co-star, Tom Sturridge, broke his nose.) Suffice to say she’s not too ruffled by the news that some audience members can’t hang. From THR:
“I’m not surprised, since this experience is unique, bold and immersive,” Olivia Wilde, who broke her tailbone and dislocated her rib during previews, told The Hollywood Reporter after Thursday’s opening-night performance (during which one attendee passed out). “It allows you to empathize in a visceral way, and that means making the audience physically and emotionally uncomfortable.”
This is great, since my main qualm with the theatah, dahling, is that it’s almost never scary enough. Icke and Macmillan said that despite the visceral reactions, they have no intention of turning down the heat:
“We’re not trying to be willfully assaultive or exploitatively shock people, but there’s nothing here or in the disturbing novel that isn’t happening right now, somewhere around the world: people are being detained without trial, tortured and executed,” explained Macmillan. “We can sanitize that and make people feel comforted, or we can simply present it without commentary and allow it to speak for itself.”
Added Icke, “You can stay and watch or you can leave — that’s a perfectly fine reaction to watching someone be tortured. But if this show is the most upsetting part of anyone’s day, they’re not reading the news headlines. Things are much worse than a piece of theater getting under your skin a little bit.”
Given its intense content, kids under 13 are not allowed. Security guards are also positioned throughout the play’s home at the Hudson Theater in order to quell any aggressive responses from audience members.