Monday, 5 June 2017

1984, Headlong's Australian production, June 2, 2017 ****1/2

1984 written by George Orwell
Adaptation by Robert Icke & Duncan Macmillan
By Headlong, Nottingham Playhouse & Almeida Theatre (UK); produced by Ambassador Theatre Group, GWB Entertainment & State Theatre Company South Australia
Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, until June 10, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 2, 2017
Stars: ****1/2 
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Mon June 5, 2017 and later in print. (Probably June 6). KH

In a world plagued by ‘fake facts’ and abundant screens, where personal details are made public and social commentary is reduced to tweets, the reductive NewSpeak and Big Brother surveillance seem prophetic in George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984.

Headlong’s stage adaptation of Orwell’s 1949 novel conjures a compelling theatrical landscape that also provokes vigorous, socio-political discussion.

In this Australian remount of the original production, Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s direction is uncluttered and seamless and their adaptation synthesises Orwell’s message into a concise script and a searing narrative performed by a compelling ensemble.

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

As in Orwell’s book, Big Brother controls the lives of Winston (Tom Conroy), his lover, Julia (Ursula Mills) and the rest of society, monitoring their every movement and word via ubiquitous tele-screens and microphones.

Winston’s sins against the state include writing in a secret journal, desiring love, and having negative thoughts about Big Brother, making him a Thought Criminal.

In the world of 1984, such harmless transgressions are seditious and punishable by death or being ‘unpersonned’, meaning that Winston will be erased from all public records.

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.

Conroy is sympathetic as Winston, with his naive heroics and dogged rebelliousness, Mills seems dangerous as the passionate Julia, and Terence Crawford is quietly threatening as the smiling villain, O’Brien, who prowls corridors and peers through grimy windows.
 Tom Conroy in 1984
The capable ensemble creates a disquieting atmosphere of routine tinged with menace, playing characters such as the insidious spy, Martin (Renato Musolino), anxiously cheerful Mrs Parsons (Fiona Press) and her rambling husband, Parsons (Paul Blackwell), who are both afraid of their spying child.

Charrington (Yalin Ozucelik) is deceptively harmless, while Syme (Guy O’Grady) is awkward and nervous.

Chloe Lamford’s design looks like a benign, wood-panelled library but its grimy windows and secret doors seem sinister even before it transforms into the glaring torture cell, Room 101.

Heightening the ominous feeling are enormous video projections (Tim Reid), a pounding and buzzing soundscape (Tom Gibbons) and disturbing lighting (Natasha Chivers).

1984 makes one want to turn off the screens, read a classic novel or talk – in OldSpeak – to a loved one. Down with Big Brother!

By Kate Herbert 

Co-adapters and director - Robert Icke & Duncan Macmillan
Associate director Australia - Corey MacMahon

Cast: Tom Conroy, Paul Blackwell, Terence Crawford, Ursula Mills, Renato Musolino,
Guy O’Grady, Yalin Ozucelik and Fiona Press

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