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This '1984' Play Is So Intense It's Making People Puke and Faint

Good news for theatergoers who like plays but wish they barfed more!

by River Donaghey
Jun 26 2017, 3:28pm

Olivia Wilde, Tom Sturridge, and the cast of Broadway's '1984.' Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Audience members at the new theater production of 1984 are puking and fainting in their seats, the Washington Post reports, which is a good thing for people who like puking and fainting but kind of a bummer for those who just want to enjoy the show.

The new stage adaptation of George Orwell's seminal 1949 dystopian novel opened last Thursday on Broadway after a few previews in London. The play comes with a pretty strict warning, asking people to leave kids younger than 14 at home and cautioning would-be watchers that the "production contains flashing lights, strobe effects, loud noises, gunshots, smoking, and graphic depictions of violence and torture."

In the book, 1984's protagonist, Winston Smith, is arrested for "thoughtcrimes" against the government and held in Room 101—an interrogation cell where prisoners are confronted with their worst nightmares. Hollywood Reporter reviewer David Rooney compared the staging of these graphic scenes to "political torture porn" and warned about the "bold use of lighting, video, and deafening sound."

The London previews garnered buzz after people in the audience reportedly vomited and freaked out during the play's bloody scenes and over-stimulating sounds and lights—but that didn't dissuade Broadway fans in the States from checking out the play's debut and subsequently freaking out as well. According to the Post, at least one person at the New York debut fainted.

The play's directors, Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan, don't really mind the visceral reactions, though. "You can stay and watch or you can leave—that's a perfectly fine reaction to watching someone be tortured," Icke said, according to Hollywood Reporter. "But if this show is the most upsetting part of anyone's day, they're not reading the news headlines. Things are much worse than a piece of theater getting under your skin a little bit."

George Orwell's original novel didn't get every part of its hypothetical future right—he left out mentions of people watching Gremlins or Madonna's "Like a Virgin" video, for example—but, you know, the guy nailed a few things. The book's political doublespeak has become a foundational reference for angry liberal moms writing anti-Trump Facebook screeds, and that whole "technology as a means for fascistic control" was pretty prescient back at a time when computers were building-sized and televisions worked thanks to magical glowing tubes.

If only Orwell could have foreseen a world in which technology was used onstage to boost dwindling theater sales and cause audience members to barf like they stumbled into a showing of Raw.

The new 1984 play is running through October 8 at Broadway's Hudson Theater in New York.