Presented by Ambassador Theatre Group, GWB Entertainment & State Theatre Company South Australia present the Headlong, Nottingham Playhouse & Almeida Theatre production
Reviewed 16 May 2017
George Orwell’s famous 1949 literary dystopia is shudderingly brought to life on-stage in a loud, oppressively intense and often confronting performance by the State Theatre Company and the Ambassador Theatre Group.
Comrade 6079, Winston Smith, sits at a desk writing down his thoughts in a diary. He is committing a crime and soon the thought-police will find him because Big Brother knows what he is doing – Big Brother is always watching. Winston is starting to question more and more about the bleak society he exists within; a society in which everyone is closely monitored, food is sparsely rationed, love is strictly for Big Brother, and individual identity is discouraged.
Winston soon finds himself being drawn towards an organised rebellion where he meets fellow rebel, Julia, and their illegal “love” begins. Although they enjoy a brief relationship of freedom, lust and love, they are always aware that they are doomed to be caught by the thought-police because nobody ultimately escapes the penetrating eyes of Big Brother.
Technology plays a huge role in this production, using light and sound as a way to dis-orientate the audience at moments of disorientation that Winston experiences throughout his journey. As his reality is tossed around the audience experiences moments of darkness broken by almost deafening beeps and siren-like sounds while overwhelmingly bright lights flash unpredictably. It’s an uncomfortable and somewhat confronting experience that relates directly to the overwhelming fear and disorientation that Winston is facing.
The set works well with much of the performance taking place within the confines of one wooden panelled room inhabited by not much more than a couple of old-world lights and a table and chairs. Its simplicity not only shows the bleak poverty of the citizens of this tyrannical society, but provides a blank canvas that allows the actors to command our fullest attention. There are two further sets; the small bedroom characterising England’s happier past with vintage, floral wallpaper and old family photos and Room 101 – a stark cell of tall, white, clinical walls inside which horrific torture takes place. It is a room of chilling fear.
Tom Conroy takes on the challenging role of 1984’s tortured protagonist, Winston Smith, in his courageous, yet ultimately futile journey of rebellion. After a somewhat stilted beginning, Conroy appeared to become much more comfortable in his role and achieves an outstanding emotional performance in the final, tragic scene of his prolonged torture.
Unfortunately the lack of chemistry between the two lead actors (Conroy and Ursula Mills) weakened the credibility of an important relationship that gives both lead characters the strength to rebel. This could be attributed to opening night nerves and despite this, Mills portrayed Julia in a believable manner.
A stand-out performer is Terence Crawford who tackles the terrifyingly sadistic, powerful and torturous (quite literally) O’Brien. Leaving the audience horrified by his brutal lack of sympathy, Crawford perfectly embodies a man who has sold his soul to Big Brother, giving a performance that will send chills down your spine.
1984 is a confronting theatrical experience that makes dramatic use of sound, light and technology which may blossom into an outstanding performance.
Reviewed by Georgina Smerd
Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre, 58 Grote Street, Adelaide
Season: 13 – 27 May
Duration: 101 minutes (no interval)
Tickets: $33 – $80
Photo Credit: Shane Reid