It's always a change for the cast when a play goes from being in rehearsals to being up on its feet in front of an audience, but for Tom Sturridge, who plays Winston Smith in the new Broadway production of "1984," the audience reaction was unexpected and vocal:
"It was an extraordinary shock when we did that first show and people started shouting at us: Stop! Please stop this! Stop! Stop! Stop hurting that boy!"
Sturridge plays a character who endures a graphic torture scene in the show. This Broadway adaptation of George Orwell's dystopian novel is proving to be tough to watch for some people. Do a Google search on the production and you'll find a list of articles about people fainting, vomiting and leaving during performances.
Olivia Wilde plays Julia, the love interest of Sturridge's character. Wilde is making her Broadway debut in "1984" and she and her co-star were recently interviewed on The Frame by John Horn. When asked about the extreme audience reactions, they were supportive:
"We are totally supportive of [people walking out]," Sturridge said. "It's a totally reasonable response to witnessing what they have to witness. " Wilde added that for those who stay, there's a kind of bonding experience: "It's become kind of a part of the performance, that the remaining audience members ... their experience is intensified by people leaving because they can't handle it."
To hear the full interview click the blue play button at the top of the page. Below are some highlights of their conversation.
HOW THE MULTI-MEDIA STAGING TURNS THE AUDIENCE INTO BIG BROTHER:
Wilde: We are running back-and-forth between the stage and a set behind the stage where our images are simulcast onto a huge screen above the stage. It is live and it turns the audience into the "Big Brother" because we think we are alone. We keep saying, "We're safe here, we're alone." And you, suddenly — as the audience member — realize you are spying on us. That was something that changed once we were in front of a real audience because we had been rehearsing that ... and never quite feeling totally on our own until we brought it into the theater where we run behind the stage and we're literally by ourselves because it's just cameras stuck into the walls of a little truck.
HOW JAMES COMEY, "FAKE NEWS" AND DEBATES AROUND WHAT IS TRUE ARE ECHOED IN THE PLAY:
Wilde: When O'Brien says, "The individual is dead, people will not look up from their screens long enough to see what's happening," people think that we've altered the text to make it more relevant. But Orwell was writing about the "telescreen," a sci-fi element that he thought was far from being reality.
Sturridge: I remember when [James] Comey was giving his deposition in front of the Senate committee, one of the Republican senators said to him, "Words matter!" — which is a line I say quite forcefully in the play. That particular night, because everyone had been watching CNN and MSNBC and Fox News that morning ... the audience just went, Ahhh! It's astonishing how the tide of the news carries onto our evening.
HOW THE TEXT OF THE PLAY RESONATES DIFFERENTLY IN 2017:
Sturridge: The text of this play originated five years ago in Nottingham, England, before any of us had any idea that Donald Trump was going to run for president. And almost 90% of it is taken directly from the 1949 novel by George Orwell. So unlike a lot of other shows that are exploring the current political climate, this has not been adjusted or adapted or manipulated for what's going on. It really is prophecy — and that is terrifying.
Wilde: What feels so different about the play now is truth, which is now in question. The idea of news versus fake news and the construction of a consensus and how you have an argument when you can't agree on what the truth is ... That's something now that is very much a part of our daily conversation.
ON THE MOMENT WHEN THE HOUSE LIGHTS COME UP DURING A TORTURE SCENE, MAKING THE AUDIENCE A PARTICIPANT IN WHAT'S HAPPENING ON STAGE:
Sturridge: It's the most exciting thing about theater to me is the fact that the people who create it are in the room with the people who are experiencing it – unlike cinema, unlike the novel. And to actually acknowledge that is incredible. And I do spend those first 20 seconds in silence, just trying to take everyone's face in and include them in the play, and [being] astonished by the fact that they are allowing what seems to be happening to me to happen.
Wilde: The moment the house lights come up, I'm on stage in a position where I can watch the audience, and they can't see that I'm watching them. It's fascinating to see them suddenly startled by the realization that they are involved, that "he" can see them. Many of them seem to panic. I've seen people burst out crying, I've seen people start to laugh nervously, but it's something that doesn't happen very often in theater. Like many things about our show, there's a lot of new experiences for the audience. But I love that I get to spy on them.
ON THE PHYSICALITY, THE PASSION AND THE VIOLENCE IN THE SHOW:
Wilde: We're both flinging ourselves into it with reckless abandon, I think, literally. Doing that together makes it something that's really exciting, and it's the only way that we can continue to be surprised by what happens onstage ... You're really keeping each other alive out there. When you have an actor onstage with you [who's] kind of bringing you into being by just looking at you, and then maintaining that connection by keeping the focus on you ... I could break it down for hours just how incredible it is. There's a scene in the play where I'm watching a memory of Winston's, and the characters in the memory aren't looking at me because they can't see me. I am invisible. And then once they disappear, I become visible once again because he glances at me, then a thousand people glance at me, and then they bring me back into reality.
Sturridge: This is a world in which love is illegal, and sex is illegal, in which intimacy and tenderness doesn't exist. So we wanted to work out a way that, if two people did find that connection, it wouldn't necessarily be obvious in how they express it. They find it through brutality.
Wilde: Something that I think is interesting is that, early on in the show, we do show them real kissing, real hitting. They then assume that what they are seeing on stage is really happening, so by the end of the show, when things turn more brutal, the audience is subconsciously accepting that reality. That's why it becomes disturbing.