It might be nearly 70 years since George Orwell wrote 1984 but the book retains an unshakeable hold on our imagination. So it is no surprise that 30 years after the setting, Shake and Stir Theatre Company returns with a harrowing production. 

Under Michael Futcher’s directorship, starring Bryan Probets as Winston Smith, Nelle Lee as Julia and David Whitney as O’Brien, the play is a visually confronting experience.

1984 Rehearsal Prints-8171 - credit Dylan Evans

For those who haven’t read it, 1984 is a dystopian tale of alienation in a totalitarian society. It is a world without hope and without individualism. To achieve this effect, the cast walk, talk and dress in the same fashion: dull, dark blue overalls. Josh McIntosh‘s stage design is cold, his monotone colours mirror the world’s sameness. (Except the suit-wearing O’Brien, he is “different”). To counteract the mundane, the audience is subjected to images that flashing violently on the backdrop’s twelve giant screens. Big Brother glares menacingly, the two-minute hate sessions flash hysteric images of traitors and Winston’s every offstage move reinforce constant surveillance. Eerie music-like noises accompany the images and the overall effect is claustrophobic – the very essence of this production.

1984 Prod Shots Print-3

At the core of the play is the subjugation of Winston. In Room 101, as he receives ect—the audience is simultaneously tortured by strobe lights. In the final scene I advise, if you are squeamish, to avert your eyes. In all, a disturbing play worthy of the book.

1984 runs from 15 July to 2 August at Cremorne Theatre. More information and ticketing at http://www.qpac.com.au/.

Donny Lau

Images by Dylan Evans