Monday, May 5, 2014


Created and adapted by shake and stir theatre co.
Adapters: Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij
Director: Michael Futcher
Designer: Josh McIntosh
 Lighting Design: Jason Glenwright
Sound Design: Guy Webster
Media Producers: optical bloc
Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre 30th April to 3rd May 2014

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

George Orwell’s deeply depressing novel “1984” about a nation perpetually at war, where cameras watch every move and Thought Police roam the streets, has never been among my favourite reading, so I was not particularly looking forward to attending this performance. Having seen shake and stir theatre company’s previous youth theatre production of Orwell’s “Animal Farm” I knew that the production would at least  be ‘interesting’ , but from the very first moments, bombarded by huge deliberately scratchy television images, my interest was immediately engaged  and for the rest of the 90 minute performance never flagged for a moment.  

Bryan Probets as Winston Smith
This powerful stage adaptation by Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij is remarkable in the way it captures the horror and hopelessness of a world where every movement is watched and any spark of individuality ruthlessly crushed.  Lee and Skubij are also part of the superb  five-member ensemble which makes up the cast, along with Ross Balbuziente, Bryan Probets and David Whitney, who, between them, people the stage with a seeming multitude of characters so that the audience often feels it is  watching an epic rather than an ensemble of just five actors. 

The leading character, Winston Smith, whose job it is to rewrite history to align the past with the current political agenda of the ruling party and its illusive leader, Big Brother, is startlingly portrayed by Bryan Probets in a remarkably intense and committed performance. When Winston falls in love with the mysterious Julia, a warm and sensitive portrayal by Nelle Lee, their forbidden love affair provides the only hints of hope or humanity in the desolate environment of the decaying concrete desolation of Oceania. Therefore when, under torture by the loathsome O’Brien (David Whitney), Winston betrays Julia, the affect is devastating.

Bryan Proberts and Nelle Lee
Director, Michael Futcher, takes full advantage of the opportunities offered by Josh Mackintosh’s cleverly flexible set-design capturing the bleak concrete decay of Oceania, dominated by a huge plasma screens. These screens allow the audience access into the innermost thoughts of the unfortunate Winston, while the set continually provides the audience with unexpected and intriguing surprises. Though gruelling to watch, his staging of the torture scenes with its live rats is masterly, as is his control of the interaction between the actors and the filmed sequences.

Even though this is a touring production, the detail and commitment of the performances, as well as the meticulous mounting of the production is nothing less than astonishing.  Shake and stir theatre company have set the bar high with this production of “1984”. One looks forward to their next production, an adaptation of Emily Bronte’s gothic masterpiece “Wuthering Heights” with great anticipation.  
 This review also appears on the Australian Arts Review website




1 comment:

  1. I knew they were watching but no one believed me. why oh why wouldn't they listen? oh god, i tried to warn them. i didn't want to do it, those terrible things. but in the end it was the only way to save them. you have to see that. you have to understand. all in all a wonderful book.
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