1984, Hackney Town Hall, stage review: ‘Timely reminder of just how thuggish servants of the people can be’

The cast of 1984 inside Hackney Town Hall. Photograph: The Other Richard

Hackney Town Hall is a fitting place to act out the tale of officials who rewrite their blunders and intimidate those who simply say what really happened.

When George Orwell penned Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Cold War was just getting off the ground and speaking truth to power was a distant dream in most parts of the world.

Seventy-five years later, it is depressing how little has changed. The technology of psychological manipulation may have moved on, but the same efforts to distort, obfuscate and coerce linger even in many supposed democracies.

Pure Expression’s immersive staging of the famous novel is a thoroughly engaging rendition of the scenes and concepts that have woven themselves into our cultural fabric – Big Brother, doublespeak, room 101.

Making excellent use of the building’s elegant 1930s interior, the production created by Adam Taub and co-directed by Jem Wall and Richard Hahlo gives fresh life to the story of doomed rebels Winston (Declan Rodgers) and Julia (Kit Reeve). A magnificent Jude Akuwudike as party enforcer O’Brien veers from caring father figure to brutal torturer with barely a change of expression.

As fears of the ‘enemy within’ resurface in political rhetoric near and far, this timely play reminds us again just how thuggish servants of the people can be.

1984 runs until 17 December at Hackney Town Hall.