In an unplanned coincidence (‘I have a spare ticket to the Donmar, would you like it?’, my friend asked and I said ‘yes, please’ as would anyone) I went to see Privacy at the Donmar Warehouse, a new play by James Graham, exposing all manner of ways in which our privacy is chipped away by governments, corporations and our own ever increasing willingness to publicly broadcast our every move. A couple of days later I saw 1984, the transfer of Almeida’s brilliant adaptation to the West End’s Playhouse Theatre.
Two plays with one theme and one that is incredibly relevant in a world where we all carry our own personal telly screen and share it with the world. This isn’t new, but it’s showcased beautifully by two very different plays in a way that feels fresh.
Everyone knows about the cultural impacts of Orwell’s classic, even if it’s just due to celebrity Big Brother and Room 101, so it may be difficult producing something that feels new. This excellent Almeida transfer succeeds with the help of a wonderful blend of voice over and video feed layered over repeated scenes, flashbacks, flash forwards, memories in an unspecified reality that slowly unravels. This is reflected in a minimalist set that manages to serve as an antiques shop, Winston’s apartment, and in several powerful scenes as the canteen at the ministry of truth.
It’s a disorientating and dizzying journey that makes the audience complicit with the authorities in a way that is directly addressed by the actors. A meta level of current readers that may or may not be in Winston’s mind add a link to Privacy, a play so meta that you don’t quite know where the script begins, where improv ends and where the cast extends to every member of the audience, or at least every member with a smart phone. Please send in your selfie, but you should learn to read the Ts and Cs!
Privacy is no longer playing, but there is still time to catch 1984 and with over 101 tickets at £19.84 even the nose bleed seats are worth while, though beware the balcony has very little leg room!