Beautifully acted and staged, the play 1984 by shake & stir Theatre Company successfully conveyed the book's sense of constant unease and powerlessness.
The novel 1984 by George Orwell was released towards the beginning of the Cold War and it is easy to imagine the 'what ifs' and terror that society at the time would have had about the expansion of communism and totalitarian regimes. Saying that though, the themes of freedom and humanity are still relevant for today's audiences. It is these powerful messages that make 1984 so well suited to being brought to life on stage. These days we have technology available that could conceivably allow omnipotent figures to listen in to our private conversations, track our every movement by GPS, or document our behaviour on CCTV cameras. In this way it is easy to empathise with Winston's lack of privacy and how he relishes finding places where Big Brother cannot see him.
In this production, Bryan Probets plays a suitably gaunt Winston Smith and he balances the character's strength, curiosity and terror masterfully. In a stark contrast to Winston, Nelle Lee's Julia is full of the vigour and health of youth and is not afraid breaking the rules. Together they question the validity of the doctrine of Oceania, a flawed socialist society headed by Big Brother.
The minor characters in this production are convincingly played by Ross Balbuziente and Nick Skubij using lightning fast costume changes. Finally, David Whitney is charismatic and disturbing as 'O'Brien', a member of the elite inner party. The actors wove in and out of a minimalist but impressive set, which was paired skilfully with lighting to create varied spaces.
1984 leaves the audience with a sense of hopelessness as they picture a future where all free will and free thought is crushed like a "boot stamping on a human face – forever". It also leaves the questions of 'what is precious about humanity?' and 'what would be in room 101 – the room with your own personal worst scenario imaginable – that could cause you to give up your last grip on your own feelings and sense of self?'
1984 is playing at QPAC until August 2nd and is well worth seeing. Tickets can be purchased on the QPAC website.