‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’ That is the arresting opening line of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Published in 1949, it was an immediate success selling 50,000 hardback copies in the UK and an amazing 350,000 in the USA within the first year. Since then it has sold millions of copies around the world, never out of print. One of the defining novels of the 20th century, it has given everyday language numerous terms such as ‘Big Brother (is watching you)’, ‘thought police’, ‘thoughtcrime’, ‘doublethink’, and ‘newspeak’, while the author’s name gave us ‘Orwellian’, meaning repressive or totalitarian. In fact, his real name was Eric Blair. Already in poor health, he retreated from London life to write the book on the island of Jura in the Inner Hebrides. A prolific journalist and reviewer, he was already something of a literary celebrity with the success of Animal Farm, published in 1945, but his output was brought to a premature end with his death from tuberculosis in 1950, aged only 46.
Now 1984 is on stage in a highly successful adaption by Robert Icke & Duncan Macmillan for Nottingham Playhouse and the Almeida; it has enjoyed three West End seasons. An English touring production has already played Adelaide and Melbourne, is in Brisbane now, next Sydney, Canberra and Perth. A Broadway production opens later this year. There have been several film and TV adaptations of Orwell’s bleak satire; now the stage has its turn.
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