To end Shake & Stir’s five-month tour of George Orwell’s classic 1984, the stage adaptation returns to QPAC for a welcomed second season until August 2.
1984 is the story of an every-day man, Winston Smith, who lives in a world run by a totalitarian government; ‘the party’, that doesn’t value individual rights and desires power purely for power’s sake. He is scared, bewildered, questioning his own memory and sanity. In short, he is experiencing what every liberal (small ‘L’ emphasised) minded Australian is currently feeling. Orwell’s Ministry of Love, where ‘thought criminals’ are taken to be tortured, and the Ministry of Truth, where the past is rewritten for government propaganda, eerily evokes Abbott calling himself Minister for Women and Minister for Indigenous Affairs. But I digress. In 1984’s terrifying political climate, where you can be arrested for an improper thought, Winston finds a forbidden love with an equally strong-minded woman, Julia, and together they find strength and the courage to join The Brotherhood rebellion.
Brian Probets is magnificent as Winston, capturing the character’s confusion, fear, anger, strength and hope in every moment of his performance. The use of Optikal Bloc’s intrusive multimedia surveillance projections to convey Winston’s inner-monologues worked wonderfully to highlight the use of technology in this futuristic (or not-so-futuristic…) society. It both distanced the audience from him, but also made every emotional nuance bigger and closer. Especially clever was the continuity between onstage action and projected ‘off-stage’ action.
Nelle Lee as Julia provides a glimpse of hope, sunshine, and respite in this bleak story. Ross Balbuziente as Parsons also provides some comic relief and is perhaps the reason for playing the role as more caricatured than the rest of the cast. And while his upbeat character was welcomed, it conversely stood out as not been grounded with the same naturalistic acting style as the rest of the cast.
Nick Skubij in addition to some minor fill-in characters, was especially watchable in the role of Charrington, an unassuming antiques dealer. Replacing Hugh Parker from the original production as O’Brien, David Whitney fit well in the cast line-up, bringing an assumed strength and power to the role.
Josh McIntosh’s set design is fantastic. Bleak, grimy walls, like you’d see in a prison, toilet block or back alley, with a feature wall of television screens continually surveying, conveying propaganda, and generally interfering with the character’s lives. Only those in the high echelons of the party have the privilege of turning them off. Kudos also to Guy Webster’s unnerving soundscape and Jason Glenwright’s lighting design which alternated between the stark, no-where-to hide light of the real world, and the shadowy recesses of Winston’s rebellious mind. The spotlight scanning the audience as we took our seats was a nice touch.
This is not a lighthearted evening of entertainment, full of charm and mirth, but entertaining in the sense that you are fully engrossed in the characters and the concepts. A production that will shake and stir you to the core, 1984 should be mandatory viewing for all humans.
Shake & Stir’s 1984 will be playing at QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre until August 2.