In terms of staging, this iteration of 1984 has a lot in common with Melbourne Theatre Company’s recent production of Miss Julie. There, live filming and projection, from angles impossible for the audience to see themselves, gave the production a visceral sense of intimacy, pulling you further in.
Here, the device is used as contrast and statement. The novel is heartbreaking in how Winston describes his desperate relief to finally be in Julia’s arms. These scenes are projected live in the theatre, the actors elsewhere in the set, and the change in tone from the loud visual/audio shock and awe employed routinely when the actors are on the stage is striking.
This adaptation doesn’t make it easy for people ignorant of either Orwell’s novel, or John Hurt’s turn in the famous cinematic adaptation (filmed in the titular year). It’s also not made any easier with a framing device you might semi-accurately refer to as ‘book club’. However, when the show works, it does so in remarkable fashion, such as when the audience follows a Syme-shaped void around the Ministry of Truth’s tearoom when he becomes, ‘unpersoned’.
More blitzkrieg than effects, the hits of sound with lights flaring, provide an extremely effective way to understand Winston’s ever-decreasing grip on his sanity. When not being hammered, we’re regaled by the mournful warble of old music from a gramophone, not far removed from the kind playing through the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Like Jack Torrance, Winston Smith is a haunted man.
Tom Conroy was excellent as Winston (if a little young), while Ursula Mills – whether liberated in a red dress, or muted in her Anti-Sex League-soaked Ministry uniform – was superb as Julia. Driving the horrors of Room 101 in the final act, Terence Crawford had the right mix of relaxed and repugnant in his performance as O’Brien, giving the sense – certainly more than the coda – that resistance to Big Brother will always be a futile gesture. You will be chewed up. Beware the savage jaw of 1984.
Comedy Theatre, 240 Exhibition Street, Melbourne
Performance: Saturday 3 June 2017 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 10 June 2017
Following the Melbourne season, 1984 will play Brisbane’s Lyric Theatre – QPAC (14 – 18 June), Sydney’s Roslyn Packer Theatre (28 June – 22 July), Canberra Theatre Centre (25 – 29 July), and Perth’s Her Majesty’s Theatre (4 – 13 August). For more information, visit: www.1984play.com.au for details.
Image: 1984 – photo by Shane Reid
Review: David Collins