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A Broadway Production of ‘1984’ Is Making Audiences Faint and Vomit

Blood spatter, electrocution and strobe lights are all part of the experience

A Broadway production of "1984" is so graphic, it has audience members fainting and vomiting. (Alamy)
smithsonian.com

In George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984, the protagonist Winston Smith undergoes months of brutal torture for resisting the totalitarian regime led by a shadowy figure known as Big Brother. Adaptations of Orwell’s novel often tone down these violent scenes, but a new Broadway production has opted to render them in graphic detail—so graphic, in fact, that audience members have been vomiting and fainting, as Ashley Lee reports for The Hollywood Reporter.

Directed by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan, Broadway’s “1984” is a grating assault on the senses, complete with flashing strobe lights, a thundering jackhammer and a whole lot of blood.

“The torture scenes are visceral, ghastly, and hair-raisingly vivid,” Christopher Bonanos writes in Vulture. “Blood is spattered and spit out; at least one beating about the face, occasioned by one awful command, ‘teeth,’ had a large part of the audience flinching.” At one point, a blood-soaked Tom Sturridge, who plays Smith, stares into the eyes of individual audience members and screams that they are “complicit” in his character’s suffering.

The New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley felt compelled to issue a trigger warning for the show in his review. “The interrogations that Winston undergoes in the play’s second half are graphic enough to verge on torture porn,” he writes.

Some ticketholders had extreme reactions to this intense theater-going experience. During previews, members of the audience passed out, threw up and screamed at the actors to stop the violence. Not even the play’s lead actors have emerged unscathed. According to Travis M. Andrews of the Washington Post, Sturridge broke his nose during one performance. Olive Wilde, who plays Smith’s love interest, Julia, dislocated her rib, split her lip and broke her tailbone.

The play had its opening night on Thursday at the Hudson Theater. Yet another audience member reportedly fainted.

To make sure things don’t get too chaotic during performances, security guards have been posted throughout the theater. Just before opening night, the production decided to enforce an age restriction, barring children under 13 from the theater. Those measures aside, the directors have no intention of taming the show’s content.

“We’re not trying to be willfully assaultive or exploitatively shock people,” Macmillan told Lee, “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. We can sanitize that and make people feel comforted, or we can simply present it without commentary and allow it to speak for itself.”

The play will run through October 8, and its debut comes at a time of renewed interest in 1984. In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, the book climbed to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list, nearly 70 years after it was first published. But those who prefer a Broadway experience that’s a little less torture porn, a little more show tunes and dance numbers might be better off trying to score “Hamilton” tickets.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer is based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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