Anyone familiar with Shake & Stir Theatre Co, would be aware that if you’re attending a production by them, you’re going to be in for a treat. Their adaptation of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel, 1984 is exactly that and more.
The Brisbane-based contemporary theatre company returns to Qpac with their 2012 sold out show, 1984. Currently on the end of their 31 venue tour, the show will be running at Qpac until the 2nd of August with most of the dates already selling out once more proving it to be another hit and after attending opening night I can clearly see why 1984 has been one their most popular productions.
George Orwell may have coined the term Big Brother back in 1949, but due to the digital and technological age that we live in today the term is more relevant and universal than ever before. One just has to look at how much we carelessly feed information to the Internet on a daily basis as part of our daily routines.
Shake & Stir’s adaptation follows the character of Wintson flawlessly played by Bryan Probets and his gradual political consciousness in the face of the oppressive totalitarian regime of The Party. For Wintson, life is an isolated existence where every movement is scrutinised for signs of “thought crime” and a time where beauty, love and compassion has been replaced with daily scheduled rituals of hate and technology. That allows for unprecedented levels of surveillance that opens up every facet of existence to the ever watchful eyes of the Thought Police and Big Brother.
Struggling to accept the The Party’s manipulation, he write secretly in his diary and when he meets fellow comrade, Julia (Nelle Lee), the two of them embark on a forbidden love affair. As Wintson’s rebellion grows, the grip of Big Brother grows tighter until he finds himself in the dreaded Room 101.
Going for 100 minutes without an interval, the performance is surprisingly watchable and will have you captivated from beginning to end as the cast act of Orwell’s classic story on stage. Director Michael Futcher has managed to highlight the important themes of its source material without crossing the line of being too heavy that it is unbearable to watch, however in some parts it really does take you to brink.
The stage adaptation stays true to its original source, and while there might not be any new surprises it remains captivating nonetheless. Its cast, and brilliant set design provides the audience with a rather enjoyable but extremely provocative theatre experience.
The backdrop is a wall of TV screens designed by Josh McIntosh featuring digital content produced by Optikal Bloc, offering the audience an extended theatrical experience, creating scenes that go well beyond the capacity of being performed on the stage. The screens also enhance the distorted vision of the dystopian world by constantly streaming hate-filled propaganda.
Various times throughout the production, Bryan Probets’ almost skull-like face would appear on the large screens creating a very disturbing image of Wintson’s crumbling psyche through revealing his internal thoughts and evolving sense of discontent. That creates a hypnotising aesthetic on stage and an extremely cleaver and innovating method of drawing the audience further into the production’s narrative.
As your sitting in the audience watching the events unfold, it’s hard not to draw analogies with our media-saturated and heavily influenced world, and forces you to consider how our society could easily head down the same path as the one featured Orwell’s dystopian world.
Now in concluding if your used theatre that leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy, this isn’t one of those productions. I suggest having your favourite “happy” song ready to listen to afterwards. Shake & Stir Theatre Co’s adaptation of 1984 is a no holding back performance that when it reaches its chilling climax, it will hit you like a cruel fist to the stomach. This is one performance not for the weak-hearted.