I don't think I've ever been as depressed reading a book as I was with 1984, and once I finished it I remember thinking that it was not something that I'd particularly care to experience again. With that in mind, I never expected to see an adaptation for stage - but enter Shake & Stir, whose work aims to connect younger audiences with more complex texts with contemporary stagings. Shake & Stir's re-imagining of 1984 is a brilliant adaptation, and although it's still equally depressing it's compelling and engaging through its use of multi-media, brilliant technical design and wonderful acting.
Overall the adaptation is really enjoyable and very smart. The events of the book are condensed without compromising much of the plot, and certain scenes were staged exactly how I'd imagined them when reading the book.
|Proberts, Parker, Balbuziente during|
the '2 Minutes of Hate' (Source: Facebook).
I love that when I saw the poster, I knew which actor was going to play which character. The three main characters are perfectly cast, and overall the cast are great as an ensemble. They're led by the always worthwhile Bryan Proberts as Winston Smith, who plays the role slightly animated but sensitively subtle as a suppressed member of the silent minority. As the only woman in the cast, the role of Julia (obviously) falls to Nelle Lee, who shows a veneer of innocence but is delightful as the passionate and promiscuous rebel, and Hugh Parker is O'Neill in a way that's authoritative and eerily charismatic. Ross Balbuziente and Nick Skubij cycle a variety of supporting characters pretty well, but Skubij also pulls out a great performance with Charington (but I couldn't tell you why . . . ).
While much of the action on stage is led by the actors, multi-media plays a big part in progressing the story. The video media, provided by Optikal Bloc, is one of the most dominating features of the production. It exists as a way to communicate Winston's inner thoughts to the audience, and is instrumental in the production since without it, it'd be impossible to communicate the first half of the book. It's a smart idea and the only thing that really distracts it is that it feels like the total length of the footage feels like it's hugely dragged out, and all the internal monologue is delivered the same way (Winton speaking his thoughts directly to the audience in a shade of blue). It felt like we were sitting in the cinema watching 1984 - The Live Movie! While it gets a bit tedious, it's easily the best quality video I've seen in a live performance. Of course it also gets a lot of attention since half of the space is taken up by impressive and imposing television screens. It's gorgeously shot and processed, but there are a lot of slow motion shots zoomed into faces, and I spent a lot of time wondering if O'Brien and Winston were about to make out (actually, I think a homo-erotic subtext would have been interesting but I suppose that's a bit too much of a creative departure).
The remaining aesthetic and technical aspects of the show were brilliant. Josh McIntosh's cold and grimy set is imposing and practical, but so clever - it's magical when, in a few seconds, a corner of smoothly transforms into the intimate little room where Winston and Julia experience their temporary love story. Jason Glenwright's lighting is appropriate and varied as usual and the nondescript score, which is full of nuances and subtle rifts, perfectly captures and enhances the hopelessness of the monotonous life and is by far the best theatrical score I've heard from Guy Webster.
|Proberts and Lee in McIntosh's beautiful set (Source: Facebook).|
Beyond the unintentional erotic vibes, I have only two criticisms for the show, although I consider them to be pretty major faults. When Winston betrays Julia in Room 101, the event is too de-emphasized among the soundscape and lighting. Winston crying "Do it to Julia" is basically the conclusion to the show, as it shows that he has finally succumbed to the torture and has relinquished his will to think. It's pretty much a non-event since the screaming is so loud the content is inaudible and it's smothered by sound and a sudden change in lighting cue. The other criticism is the interaction between Julia and Winston at the end - it's too animated for people who have had their personal feelings annihilated (as spoken "they make it so they ruin your love"). Proberts moving a lot and trying to hold her hand implied that he still subconsciously had feelings towards her, and O'Neill makes it pretty clear he would have obliterated that. I guess it's really up to direction and interpretation, but those points really didn't get through.
While I'd heard some lacklustre reviews and people complaining about the overuse of multi-media, I really liked and enjoyed Shake & Stir's 1984. They've enjoyed a sold-out run which is well deserved and the adaptation has been handled sensibly and effectively. All the actors are great and the technical aspects are excellent, and beyond a few criticisms there isn't much not to like. Grand. I'd say the whole 'Double plus' thing, but everyone else in the industry has said that already.
Duration of approximately 90 minutes.