Shaken and stirred by the original Big Brother

1984 -Shake & Stir
1984 -Shake & Stir

1984 at the Cremorne

It’s a strange feeling to get to the end of a brilliant production and not want to applaud, but that was exactly my condition at the end of Shake and Stir Theatre Company’s faithful rendition of the Orwell classic, 1984; a gripping and impressive adaptation by Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij, and directed by Michael Futcher.

Confronted with the horrors of human behaviour, still relevant (if not more so) today, the tradition of applause felt more like falling in with the rank-and-file glorification of totalitarian power. Were we brain-washed followers of Big Brother or theatre patrons out on a Thursday evening – after an hour and a half of doublespeak, the lines had been blurred.

Bryan Probets is gaunt and spooky as Winston Smith and the bold, sensuous Julia is believably brought to life by Nelle Lee as the two traverse love, torture and betrayal at the hands of the inner-party of the dystopian superstate, Oceania. Ross Balbuziente supports as the bumbling Parsons, Nick Skubij as Syme and Hugh Parker as the chilling inner-party spy O’Brien. The five of them, incited for the ‘two minute hate’ is enough to make your hair stand on end and your stomach churn with anxiety.

1984 - shake & stirDark and dreary, a clever ‘Swiss army knife’ stage has sets flipping in and out of the walls to provide location changes and the Cremorne’s industrial ambience is an added bonus as an eerie search light calmly sweeps over the audience. Digital Media powerhouse, Optikal Block, masterfully creates the omnipresent leader Big Brother whose oppressive face appears amongst propaganda, news as the Ministry of Truth would have it and internal dialogue, projected on a huge multi-screen wall.

“We have embraced digital technology to enhance the exploration of the narrative,” Futcher explains in his Director’s notes.

The heavy use of this technology does take a moment to adjust to, but once the simultaneous watching of both screens and live actors is mastered, the effect is overwhelming and thoroughly appropriate. This is not a normal theatre experience; horror, Sci-fi on the stage, who would have believe it could work so well?

On opening night, Nick reminisced that Shake & Stir started out by taking theatre to primary schools but they had always dreamed of taking their shows to the main stage. With twelve months of multi-award winning main stage success behind them (and certainly more awards ahead), this goal is well and truly achieved.

1984 - Shake & StirAs we silently walked from the theatre, glum as our hearts locked on those final moments when Winston and Julia are confronted with their unavoidable human fragility, I overheard an old couple comparing Hugh Parker’s level of creepiness as O’Brien to the original screen adaptation and I suddenly realised the vast range of ages that surrounded me. From teenagers to grandparents, every generation was represented in the opening night audience. It struck me that 1984, now sixty-five years old is still as strong and contentious as ever. While early readers may have worried about the uncertain future to come, the 2012 audience may reflect that we are well on our way to realising Orwell’s terrifying prophesy.

Shake & Stir’s ability to bring classic, world changing literature to the main stage is double-plus awesome. It’s rare to see a book adaptation that feels whole and complete in its own right. Get online and book your tickets immediately or you will miss out. Room 101 awaits you.

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