Strong cast, stark set ensure compelling vision of '1984'

Jess Linsley in Manawatu Theatre Inc's production of 1984.
ROB EDWARDS

Jess Linsley in Manawatu Theatre Inc's production of 1984.

1984, Adapted by Michael Gene Sullivan, Manawatu Theatre Inc, directed by Scott Andrew, Globe Theatre, Palmerston North, to July 1. 

REVIEW:  Adapted cautionary classics seem all around lately, with The Inspector General running onstage in Feilding; The Handmaid's Tale screening online, and now, Manawatu Theatre Inc's production of George Orwell's 1984.

Its vision of a future world of surveillance and conformity, where history is constantly being rewritten and Big Brother is always watching, still has power to stir uncomfortable feelings of "what if…" and Orwell, writing in 1948, deliberately set this story in Britain to show totalitarian regimes can happen anywhere.

Manawatu Theatre is known for its "novel" programme ideas. At Friday's opening night, theatregoers could opt to buy a copy of 1984 –the actual novel – along with their programme.

In programme notes, director Scott Andrew writes about the story's current parallels: "Under this guise of security, we have arrived at a world where everyone is tracked, everyone is on camera, everyone is subordinated, and for which the casual mechanism is still taboo to name."

The streamlined tale follows Winston Smith, lowly employee at the Ministry of Truth, a misnomer since his job is to adjust (falsify) war news, keep rage against a supposed enemy of the people simmering, and promote adoration of the maybe mythical leader Big Brother.

How Winston falls in love, commits "thoughtcrime" and is caught in a punitive chain reaction, makes for a fascinating, scary watch.

This production has a particularly strong cast in Samuel Gordon (Winston), Matt Waldin, Jess Linsley (Julia, Winston's love interest), Mark Kilsby and Glen Eustace, with Joanne Sale voicing the perky Telescreen announcer. 

Set design is simple, stark and eye-catching, with the actors moving around a closer-to-the-audience apron stage backed by black curtains.

Dominating the action along with the consistently watchable Samuel Gordon during the final, harrowing scene of Winston's deconstruction is Richard Mays, earlier heard throughout as the jarring Interrogation Voice.

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As Inner Party leader O'Brien, his smilingly sadistic performance is riveting.

 - Stuff

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