Simon Scardifield is powerfully restrained as the passionate Winston, the frightened Winston, the broken Winston. Julia Innocenti as the fun-loving, for-the-moment Julia is also outstanding, capturing her tremulous, uncertain, and ultimately shallow conversion to political passion with fine judgment. If there was one character I wasn't so sure about, and I'm not sure I'd blame the actor here, it was Gergo Danka's O'Brien - the goosetepping, potbellied strutting of his character I found more distracting than illuminating.
But if there's one aspect of this 1984 that really gives me pause it is the fact that here we are in CCTV-flooded London in 2009, with a government that keeps trying to hold alleged "terrorists" while refusing to disclose the evidence against them to they can defend themselves, in a city where peaceful demonstrators can be "kettled" (effectively imprisoned) for many hours without cause. Yet this production very much sees 1984 as an historical artifact.
The feel of the production is quasi-Soviet (indeed much of it reminded me of the filming of a North Korean propaganda movie that I witnessed many years ago), the costuming very much of that era, and the technology is of the strings and cardboard, British post-war idea of how to imagine the future. It seems to almost perversely be refusing to engage with the debates of today, particularly given that Amnesty International is involved in the production.
You could argue that it's sticking purely to the psychology, to the exploration of Winston's reaction to tyranny, yet why not engage, in some way or another, with the politics that's pervading the very air of Battersea? (Indeed we're just down the road from the Stockwell Tube station where police shot dead the innocent Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes.)
There's so much skill and quality in this production - so much pure entertainment and quality stagecraft - that I'm sure (combined with the "everyone knows the story" quality of 1984) this will be playing to packed houses through its run. It's a pity then that an opportunity has been missed to encourage the crowds to leave the theatre thinking about the London of today, rather than a past Stalinist age.
The production continues at the Battersea Arts Centre until January 9.