Special Reports

Broadway Shockers 2017: 1984 Gives Audiences Truly Visceral Reactions

The stage adaptation of George Orwell’s novel left theatergoers trembling on their way to the exit.

As 2017 draws to a close, TheaterMania looks back on some of the most jaw-dropping stories of the year.

Tom Sturridge as Winston Smith and Reed Birney as O'Brien in 1984.
Tom Sturridge as Winston Smith and Reed Birney as O'Brien in 1984.
(© Julieta Cervantes)

Anyone who has read George Orwell's classic dystopian novel 1984 knows that its main character, Winston Smith, endures physical torture at the hands of Big Brother's government. But Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan's stage adaptation of 1984, which transferred from London's West End last spring, brought sensory overload to the Hudson Theatre stage in the form of blaring sound effects, disorienting strobe lights, and extremely violent scenes the likes of which Broadway audiences had never seen before.

Night after night, Reed Birney's character, the government official O'Brien, subjected Smith (played by Tom Sturridge) to eye-wincing acts of bloody brutality that left viewers cringing in their seats, and parents who unwittingly took young children to the show had to contend with their little ones' terrified reactions. Producers quickly decided to institute an age restriction on the performance, prohibiting admittance to children under 13. Judging from the wobbly-kneed adults leaving the theater, kids weren't the only ones who'd been thoroughly shocked by what they'd witnessed onstage.