Saturday, 17 October 2015

1984, 16 Oct 2015 ****1/2

1984 by George Orwell
Adaptation by Robert Icke & Duncan Macmillan
By Headlong (UK)
Melbourne Festival 
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, Oct 16 to 25, 2015
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Fri 16 Oct 2015
Stars: ****1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun online on Mon 19 Oct 2015 and thereafter in print. KH
Cast of 1984 by Headlong; pics by Manuel Harlan 
L-R: (Parsons) Simon Coates; (Martin) Christopher Patrick Nolan; (Julia) Janine Harouni;  (Winston) Matthew Spencer (rear as O’Brien) Tim Dutton; (Charrington) Stephen Fewell; (Mrs Parsons) Mandi Symonds; (Syme) Ben Porter

The most alarming thing about this theatrical re-imagining of George Orwell’s 1984, adapted by UK company, Headlong, is that Orwell foreshadowed in 1949 a dystopian future that resembles our present.

Corporations and governments currently have control of, and demand even more intrusive, unfettered access to our personal information and, in 2013, Edward Snowden alerted the world to a clandestine surveillance program run by the NSA.

Orwell wrote 1984 after the horrors of Nazism and World War II, but when Britain still suffered post-war trauma and food rationing and Stalin’s Soviet Union ruled the Eastern Bloc.

The all-powerful Big Brother and the repressive Thought Police of the tyrannous government in 1984, reflect but predate the East German Stasi secret police and its citizen spies.

In their stage vision of 1984, Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan conjure a compelling theatrical landscape as well as provoking vehement political discourse.

Their direction is crisp, uncluttered and seamless while their adaptation synthesises Orwell’s message into a concise, riveting script with a crystal clear concept, searing narrative and credible characters, all delivered by an impeccable ensemble.

The production is unnerving with its sense of impending doom, its mental torment, Shakespearean violence and gruesome, graphic scenes of torture.

As in Orwell’s book, Big Brother controls and maintains surveillance on the lives of Winston (Matthew Spencer), his lover, Julia (Janine Harouni), and his oppressed comrades, monitoring their every movement and word via ubiquitous telescreens and microphones.

Winston’s sins against the state include: writing in a secret journal, desiring love, Thought Crime that includes negative thoughts about Big Brother, and defying the state.

Such transgressions that we view as merely human needs or choices, are considered seditious and are punishable by death and being ‘unpersonned’, meaning that Winston will be erased from all public records.

The Ministry of Love is actually about hate, The Ministry of Truth deals in lies, the population is deprived, starved, brainwashed and oppressed into conformity with Big Brother’s regime while inconvenient truths are written out of history.

This repressive, regressive world reverses social values: ‘War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.’

In Icke and Macmillan’s interpretation, Winston’s mind slips between reality and horrific unreality so that he cannot discern whether he exists in the oppressive world of 1984 or in the world of those who read his journal a century later.

Spencer balances Winston’s naive heroics with a brittle, dogged rebelliousness that makes us cheer his pluckiness but want to shout warnings to shut up and keep his head down.

Tim Dutton is disturbing as the smiling villain, O’Brien, with his quietly threatening presence and ever-watchful gaze as he prowls like a lion stalking its prey, peering through grimy windows.

The cast creates a disquieting atmosphere of routine tinged with menace, playing characters such as the insidious spy, Martin (Christopher Patrick Nolan), anxiously cheerful Mrs Parsons (Mandi Symonds) and her fearful, rambling husband, Parsons (Simon Coates), who are terrified of their spying child who is a product of indoctrination.

Old Charrington (Stephen Fewell) is deceptively harmless while Syme (Ben Porter) constantly giggles nervously.

The design (Chloe Lamford) may look like a benign, wood-panelled library but its smoky windows, secret doors and corridors make it threatening even before it transforms into the starkly lit, sinister torture cell, Room 101.

The ominous environment is heightened by huge video projections (Tim Reid) overlooking the stage and the pounding, buzzing static of the invasive soundscape (Tom Gibbons) and evocative lighting (Natasha Chivers).

Remember, Big Brother is watching so hang on to your identity with both hands.

By Kate Herbert
O’Brien Tim Dutton
Charrington Stephen Fewell
Julia Janine Harouni
Martin Christopher Patrick Nolan
Syme Ben Porter
Winston Matthew Spencer
Parsons Simon Coates
Mrs Parsons Mandi Symonds 

Adapted and Directed by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan
Chloe Lamford
Lighting Natasha Chivers
Sound Tom Gibbons
Video Tim Reid
Janine Harouni as Julia

Christopher Patrick Nolan as Martin

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