Her Majesty’s Theatre, Thu 18 May.
Courtesy of George Orwell’s novel the year 1984 has long been associated with notions of an all controlling state that knows everything about what its citizens are doing. It has become synonymous with the idea of the state as Big Brother, and a fear of being watched. Presented by State Theatre Company of SA, this powerful adaptation of Orwell’s classic takes its central themes and presents them in a way that rams home their relevance for contemporary times in an alarming but totally engaging manner for a modern audience.
Winston Smith works for the Ministry Of Truth and his job is to unwrite the history of people or events that clash with Big Brother’s view of how people should behave and think. But he retains a faith in the fact that nothing Big Brother can do can eradicate human memory. Deeply disturbed by the schizoid nature of his existence he finds solace in the company of Julia (Ursula Mills), who too cherishes a need for humanity beyond that which Big Brother can offer. But their pleasure is short lived.
They are soon found out. Their love nest is obliterated (unwritten) and Big Brother sets to work to convert them into perfect citizens. What follows is some of the most disturbing and powerful theatre you will ever see. Terence Crawford as O’Brien is superb as the agent of the state supervising Winston’s re-education. A soliloquy-like exposition of Shakespearean eloquence treads the line between gentle benefactor and purveyor of cold hard truths about the nature of the state and human existence. His Shaw-like sophistry is sublime as he attempts to grind Winston into docile submission.
The staging of this production is magnificent. A canny use of a larger screen to bring us moments of tenderness and torment is incredibly effective in combining film with live performance. It underscores the screen culture of our time, and reinforces the always-watched nature of life in Orwell’s 1984. Audio and lighting is frequently loud and menacing and regularly jolts us out of any comfort we may be feeling.
The stage throughout appears as if it were a large television screen, and it’s as if we are watching with Big Brother as the state tries to demolish the spirit of dissidents like Winston and Julia.
The generous and deserving applause at play’s end felt like an ironic tribute to the indomitable human spirit. We have witnessed people wreaking torment on others in the name of the state, but we survive to applaud the courage of people who dare to rebel, and to acknowledge the art of those who have given part of their humanity to tell this tale. It’s a strangely satisfying feeling of resolution.
Superb theatre. 1984 is worth every minute of your time. Rich in symbolism and layers of meaning, you’re unlikely to catch it all in one visit. Tom Conroy is wonderful as the tormented Winston, and this is just what a modern screened obsessed population needs to stretch the vistas of their imagination, and ponder where we are as a species!
1984 continues at Her Majesty’s Theatre, at various times, until Sat 27 May.
Book at BASS on 131 246 and bass.net.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.