1984 – ASB Waterfront Theatre March 10, 2018

Orwell’s 1984 is no longer just a seminal piece of literature. It has been successfully adapted for the stage and lucky for us is playing as part of the Auckland Art Festival at the ASB Waterfront Theatre. The 13th Floor’s Neesha Bremner attended opening night.

“We are the dead.”
“We are the dead.”
“We are the dead.”

There is something disconcerting that occurs within when you notice that what is unfolding before you on stage has a resonance. Like a song you knew from childhood that you can’t quite remember all the words too… “the bells of St. Clements”…but you sure as hell can hum along.

It is familiar.

With ever tightening, increasingly uncomfortable, self referencing circles of experience, lines and lights this is Robert Icke’s & Duncan Macmillan’s stage adaption of George Orwell’s 1984. Staged in partnership with the Auckland Theatre Company until March 25 this is a once in a lifetime stage experience.

The ensemble cast is tight and nuanced with Tom Conroy’s Comrade 6079, Winston Smith sublime, his language divine – “sanity is not statistical” – and his mental distress visceral if not damn disconcerting in scenes.

The torture sequence was with me when I woke this morning. And is still coming to me in waves now.

The threat and menace conveyed in almost showing everything partnered with bone shaking soundscapes, intense white lighting, pitch black and then the aftermath shown in stark relief; bloodied fingertips and teeth spat out in a hurled red mass to a white plastic covered stage.

Members of the audience, myself included, flinched and cowered in their chairs as Winston underwent his metamorphosis to an unperson.

Terence Crawford’s, O’Brien, the man in the glasses, the man in the hallway, the voice and then the man that draws ever closer and then drowns the world with his presence and systematic, pragmatic party politics driven destruction of Winston and truth itself.

“How can you destroy the system that controls the world…” I will never look at a man sitting under a pink umbrella in the same way.

The scene transitions of 1984 are cunning and speak to the deep disorientation of Winston’s reality or reenactments of past events while being tortured at the Ministry of Love.

His “secret world” with Julia, his love and downfall, appears predominantly off stage and is projected  against a screen above the stage as captured by the all seeing eye of Big Brother.

This play has unsettled me in the best possible way.

I’m pondering my clichéd Orwellian references in real ways – tele-screens, party political machines, the politics of fear, the reorientation of language into new things, the slippage of facts in the age of Crosby Textor dead cat swings, that we monitor ourselves through our social media…

“No one noticed what was happening, they were all too busy watching their screens… we are the dead”

As are we Orwell. As are we.

Neesha Bremner

Photos courtesy Andi Crown