Friday, May 2, 2014

1984 adapted from the novel by George Orwell

1984 adapted from the novel by George Orwell, by Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij.  shake & stir youth theatre company, directed by Michael Futcher at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre Wednesday 30 April, 8.00pm, Thursday 1 May, 10.30am & 8.00pm, Friday 2 May, 10.30am & 8.00pm, Saturday 3 May, 2.00pm & 8.00pm, 2014.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
May 2

Terrifying & depressing is how I found this production by shake & stir.

If you dress this man in a business suit:

O'Brien in 1984

it’s amazing how much he looks just like this man:

Donald Rumsfeld - one-time US Secretary for Defense

One image from the show that I can’t get out of my head is O’Brien / Donald Rumsfeld watching impassively as his underlings waterboard Winston Smith.  1948 to 1984 is nothing on 1984 to 2004 or 2014. 

Although Michael Futcher has kept to a 1948 style for the set and costumes, it seems to me that Orwell was not out of touch – just his timing needs adjusting.  I remember 1984 (the real one, not the novel) with some hope when our Prime Minister offered us the promise that ‘no child will be living in poverty by the year 2000’.  Some hope!

To the group of Year 12 Advanced English students who stayed for a Q&A, it was David Whitney who thought that what is even more frightening than Orwell’s prediction of a future of dictatorship, is to know that his prediction of future total tracking of information on all citizens and the use of manipulative psychological torture has become true of modern democracies.  Depressing indeed!

I checked out what Donald Rumsfeld is up to now.  Here it is at .

To escape depression, after a walk with views along the beautiful Brindabella Mountain range, I realised that there is hope in the quality of the work by this youth theatre team.  The relationship between Nelle Lee as Julia and Bryan Probets as Winston formed the dramatic thread of the show, both actors capturing the beginnings of attraction under the duress of the industrial workplace, bombarded constantly with official announcements of glorious achievements, the need to love Big Brother, and the injunctions against sexual behaviour.

Lee played Julia’s positive leadership in the developing relationship – in the forest hideaway and the rented room in the antique shop – so tenderly and with such a feeling of excitement in finding real love that we, watching, were moved despite our doubts, just as Winston was.  It was the strength of the acting here that made their discovery, arrest and the three stages of Winston’s torture that we witness, to the point where he is forced to betray Julia, so awful.  When they at last meet again, in the factory canteen, and both know that each had betrayed the other, and in doing so had betrayed their love for each other, our sense of loss is palpable as we  realise that our own love is fragile; always at risk of manipulation.

Then David Whitney’s O’Brien becomes spotlighted by our horror at his capacity to so absolutely, coldly, calculatingly twist Winston’s reality.  Whitney spoke in the Q&A of Orwell’s interest in language, and once again I could not escape the image of Rumsfeld, who even now is twisting words about his tax as if he is the victim of other people’s incompetence.  Unbelievable!

So, for a youth theatre company, is this 1984 an important, worthwhile and theatrically valid project?  Absolutely!  No weasel words from me.

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