There's a justly famous image of a security camera next to a blue plaque proclaiming George Orwell's former residence. The point hardly needs elaborating – indeed it turns out to be rather a dumb point if you do, since deep down we all know the camera is there to prevent crime, which none of us really think is a bad idea, and that such crimes don't include unorthodox thoughts.

Nevertheless, a sort of cottage industry has grown up pointing out "things Orwell predicted that have come true", to say nothing of a couple of popular TV shows taking their names from elements of 1984. My personal favourite would have to be John Major's conference speech in which he discussed "doublethink", the ability to hold two contradictory points of view at once, and then pointed out that Orwell's real name was Blair. Which just goes to prove… well, not very much really.

Headlong's 1984 comes to Richmond Theatre as part of a succesful tour around the country. Their approach is almost postdramatic, the kind of thing some people like to call "deconstructing" the source material. We open with a rather tedious suburban book group discussing Winston Smith's diary, in the imaginary future "age when thought is free" to which he addressed it. Winston, however, seems to be present at the group too, as is the treacherous daughter of the Parsons family next door, and at one point Julia, also a character in the novel, comes in to pour coffee. A voiceover repeatedly asks Winston where he thinks he is.

Pretty soon we're in the canteen at his workplace, the Ministry of Truth, watching a scene which will be repeated several times – even when one of the participants is no longer there, the others carry on as if not noticing any difference. Is Winston the only one who even remembers Syme? Not that there's any mystery about what's happened to him – Winston's own job is the removal of "unpersons" from official records – but he marvels at how seamlessly the others seem to accept the new reality, not to mention the official lies about the chocolate ration and the current enemy in the perpetual war. But perhaps Winston isn't alone – Inner Party member O'Brien makes a clear reference to the disappeared Syme, and invites Winston to his apartment on the pretext of showing him the latest Newspeak dictionary. Can this finally be his induction into the resistance movement led by Emmanuel Goldstein, whom he is obliged to pretend to hate for two minutes every day?

There's a lot that's good about Headlong's production. It's a nice touch that we only see the room in which Winston and Julia try to hide from the world via the room's hidden cameras – the Big Brother house indeed – though it does rather undermine any sense of suspense. But then perhaps the point is that, as Winston and Julia often say, what's going to happen to them is inevitable. The stripping away of an artificial reality at the moment of their arrest is ingenious, as is a masterly trompe l'oeil as Winston struggles to get his bearings at the Ministry of Love. Chloe Lamford's set brilliantly recreates a 1950s canteen, and her costume for Tim Dutton as O'Brien is particularly reminiscent of the period. Tim Reid's video is excellent, though it hardly seemed necessary to flash up the name "Julia" at the moment Winston understood that he had to betray her.

However, the trouble with a postdramatic approach is that by definition it's not very dramatic, and this (like the others on the tour) is a pretty mainstream venue. If there were a few walkouts, I suspect it's because not everyone goes to the theatre in the hope of seeing a scholarly essay about the novel in stage form. The dialogue, moreover, goes markedly downhill when it departs from Orwell's original, and I'm curious as to why Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan fight shy of the word "proles" – do they find it distasteful, or just think most people wouldn't understand it these days? And I can't pretend to like the ending, in which the future book group discuss how the Party fell from power in 2050 – but wait just one goddamn minute, isn't that exactly what they'd want us to think? This is not only trite, but makes a nonsense of the idea that Winston is only imagining the book group in the first place.

Mark Arends makes an engaging Winston and Hara Jannas a suitably iconoclastic Julia, but Tim Dutton just doesn't have the menace or authority of O'Brien, particularly if you remember Richard Burton in the 1984 film. The torture scenes are also fairly tame compared to the film, though this may be no bad thing. On the whole, good but not doubleplusgood.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, at Richmond Theatre

Ignorance of Orwell's novel may well be a strength as you approach Headlong's intermittently inspired take on 1984. At least Davina McCall isn't in it. At the Richmond Theatre.

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