EFR - Reviews of 1984

1984

Thu 9th – Mon 27th August 2012

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reviews

Steve Hartill

at 09:20 on 11th Aug 2012

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As a fan of the original book, theatrical adaptations of '1984' interest me, and this production by EmpathEyes Theatre was no disappointment. Much of it was how I had originally pictured that '1984' should be adapted for stage: Winston Smith (Theo Gordon) is an awkward, intense character who is easily drawn in by the sensual and sexy presence of Julia (Kate Hesketh), and then falls into the cleverly set trap of O’Brien (Daniel Addis) and his treachery. These three provide the central dynamic of the play, which to my mind seems appropriate, as they are the most central characters in the book. The stage-craft is something that should be highlighted: the use of a screen at the back to project images and films is inventive and original, such as an all-seeing eye to represent when Big Brother is watching and when he is not. Similarly effective is the choreographed ensemble movements of the whole cast, such as at the opening of the play when they all wake up in their underwear and go through a synchronised morning routine. There is also creative use of nondescript boxes to signify a variety of settings, such as Winston’s hiding place when he arranges them together to block out Big Brother and write in his diary.

Another highlight for me is the music: including live instruments in the play adds a level of involvement to the events, and the fact that some band members occasionally step out into the performance as other characters is also impressive. The intimidating presence of the Thought Police is excellent, signified by the putting on of a gas mask and a certain sound effect. Winston’s torture scene is an engrossing spectacle, with use of a strobe light to signify his torture by electricity. Although at points the dialogue of some of the background characters is a little unsure, this is probably an inherent risk of an adaptation of books, particularly a relatively short one like '1984'. This production is certainly enjoyable and entertaining, and proves that Orwell’s writing is still relevant enough for actors and audiences to feel its message is still important enough to be observed.

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Chelsey Stuyt

at 13:52 on 11th Aug 2012

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Adapted for the stage by Matthew Dunster, '1984' is a visceral yet literal interpretation of Orwell's classic dystopian novel. All major plot points are hit, yet the lack of emotional range that is integral to the novel creates a play that is unable to move and left more than one audience member yawning.

The stage direction by Tahsin Tarzan Gemikonakli and Imogen Lewis was well thought out – particularly the multi-functional use of wooden crates. However, while I understand the use of the multi-media projection (variously showing memories of Winston's past, of Big Brother's speeches, or of a single blinking eye) it ultimately detracts from engaging with the cast emotionally. It is too big, too bright, and too loud. It drowned and obliterated the emotional drama of the play.

The acting was competent if generally unremarkable. Theo Gordon as Winston Smith does not seem like your typical leading man; however, this may be intentional due to the requirements of the character. I felt no connection to him and found it difficult to ascertain his emotions until later in the play, but he does begin to shine during the torture scene where his screams and terror are about the only emotionally palpable moment in the play. But it is the supporting cast, particularly Chern Yunn, and Sean Lynch as Syme, that impress with performances that remain lodged in your mind for hours afterward. Yunn's diverse range of facial emotions – particularly during the Two Minutes Hate – was a pleasure to watch and Lynch in particular is perfectly cast, falling into the character of Syme seamlessly – without a doubt the standout performance of the show.

Ultimately the production is strong but does not take the story to the truly terrifying level that the novel requires. This may be due, in part, to the age of the actors. Although they were all competent performers, lines such as “I wanted to rape you and bang your head in afterwards” were met with the audience's laughter – a sign that the actors are unconvincing. Orwell's masterpiece is just that, but this adaptation – crammed into just over one hour – leaves the audience unmoved.

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