I’ve come late to 1984; it’s well into the second week of a season that was sold out two weeks before opening. Most of the reviews are in and they are unusually fulsome in their praise for a local production. I’m certainly not going to be different in that regard.
1984 is a cracker of a production – intelligent and theatrically clever as are all of Michael Futcher’s creations as stage director.
Orwell’s horror story of a society diseased by totalitarianism (of either the left or right variety) has been adapted for this production by two of Shake and Stir’s Artistic Directorate: Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij. Both Ms Lee and Mr Skubij are part of the first-rate onstage cast of five which also includes Ross Balbuziente, Hugh Parker and Bryan Probets, who is truly excellent as the hapless and doomed Winston Smith. His skull-like image and haunted eyes are projected large on the huge screen that backs and enlarges the stage action. It complements that of Big Brother and, for those who know the novel, is used in a device at play’s conclusion that perfectly captures the tragedy of Orwell’s novel. The production also features screen and audio appearances from Alexander Butt, Veronica Neave, Naomi Price, Matthew Welsh and Walt Webster.
I particularly enjoyed the way this production engaged fully with theatre’s ways and means in the story-telling. Along with an ensemble cast that play beautifully in sync, Michael Futcher has assembled a formidable design team. Josh McIntosh‘s design creates a world that not only shades in Orwell’s post-WWII Britain but also the invasive world of contemporary digital technology. Media designers optikal bloc (Craig Wilkinson and Stephen Brodie) bring a young, tech savvy aesthetic to the stage. That visually literate generation – one raised on video clips – that we’ve been told about for the past 10 or so years, has well and truly arrived.
In my humble opinion, this little jewel of a production confirms Shake and Stir’s place in the commonwealth of national theatres.
Jason Glenwright generates light and shade in a world that seems permanently to be under dazzling spot lights – no hiding from Big Brother – and Guy Webster‘s eerie sound design is in absolute lock-step with the production’s atmospherics. And yes, there were real rats in case you were wondering. It gave another shade of meaning to the old adage of never acting with animals …
I came away feeling enormously heartened by this work not only for the excellence of the production but also for the future of theatre creation in this city. Shake and Stir are young, smart and talented and they’re spreading the word round the country with local and national touring teams; they’re up for a Helpmann (national theatre award) for Statespeare in case you didn’t know. And, by the way, their visual materials – check out the 1984 program and their presence in the social media – are gorgeous and all class. Talk about finger on the pulse … And, about that 1984 program – it’s free; take note other companies.
In my humble opinion, this little jewel of a production confirms Shake and Stir’s place in the commonwealth of national theatres. However, I’m not going to repeat the ‘double-plus good’ mantra that just about everyone else couldn’t resist using in reviews and in the social media. Oh, wait …