THEATRE: 1984, Orwell’s view in all its glory

1984

Presented by: shake&stir theatre company

Venues and seasons: Civic Theatre, Newcastle, tomorrow; Laycock Theatre, Gosford, Saturday

BIG Brother would approve. This production of George Orwell’s dystopian novel makes attention-grabbing use of the technology that’s very much part of the story but was just something in the author’s mind when it was written in 1948.

Technology is effectively used in the opening scene when the workers in the Ministry of Truth observe the daily Two Minutes of Hate and shout abuse at plasma screen images of people  defined as traitors and criminals by the ruling regime, with a wall-sized picture of an unsmiling Big Brother ending the session.

But the shake&stir production team makes good use of it to explore different  types of emotions.

Winston Smith (Bryan Probets), whose work rewriting history to support the regime’s power increasingly boosts his hatred of its lies and distortions, hides daily in a cubby hole writing a diary in which he expresses his hopes and wishes, with the things going through his mind shown on the screens.

These include, on occasions, lyrical scenes of Winston moving through an idyllic forest glade, either accompanied by the department head, O’Brien (David Whitney), whom he believes to be a member of a secret rebel group, or exchanging come hither glances with Julia (Nelle Lee), a fellow ministry worker to whom he is attracted.

And when Winston falls foul of the regime and is savagely tortured his agony is shown in dark and grim images of his writhing face and body.

However, the graphic technical imagery is matched by the performances of the five actors who make the audience see this as a world in which millions are suffering because ever-lasting warfare leads to rationing of food and other goods.

There are darkly funny recurring references, for example, to the unavailability of razor blades for shaving, with Winston repeatedly telling his fellow male workers that he has used the same blade for six weeks.

And the romantic scenes, with Winston and Julia getting together in a romantically furnished hired bedroom, have a warmth and gentleness that are  at odds with the world they live in.

I saw the production at Cessnock and, like me, the rest of the audience was gripped by the onstage events from the beginning to the end of its 90minutes.

Shake&stir has  created a  believable future world with just five actors – Ross Balbuziente and Nick Skubij each play several roles – and the script by Lee and Skubij, direction by Michael Futcher, production design by Josh McIntosh, lighting by Jason Glenwright, sound and music by Guy Webster, and screen images by optical bloc show that Australian theatre is very much a world leader.

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