When US President Donald Trump’s counselor Kellyanne Conway alerted the world to the existence of “alternative facts” in January this year, George Orwell’s novel 1984rocketed to the top of the fiction bestseller lists. The book’s American publisher, Penguin USA, rushed 75,000 copies into the shops. They flew off the shelves.

The British director and playwright Duncan Macmillan, who was then in the United States supervising the upcoming Broadway production of his theatrical version of 1984, watched it happen.

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“The term ‘Orwellian’ is being used on a daily basis and perhaps people are reaching for the book to understand exactly what is meant by it,” says Macmillan, who, with collaborator Robert Icke, created the acclaimed stage adaptation for the UK touring company Headlong in 2013.

Icke and Macmillan’s 1984, which opened at the Nottingham Playhouse before transferring to the West End in 2014, is now being presented by the State Theatre Company of South Australia on a national tour that includes a season at Sydney Theatre Company.

“It’s tempting to look to Orwell as a Nostradamus-like prophet,” says Macmillan. “If readers want to find our current times reflected in...