1984: newspeak is new again

1984 tour poster for shake and stirWe saw the Shake and Stir Theatre Co.’s adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 at Ballarat’s Her Majesty’s theatre today, and what a superb performance it is. The Brisbane company is touring, and has there ever been a better time for it?

With Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s reprehensible use of the term illegal maritime arrivals burning in my ears — well done, minister, for ‘unpersoning’ the desperate people seeking safety in our country, and hang their right to do so — Orwell’s observations of language control, propaganda and social warfare have never struck closer to home.

A government that has declared war on its own citizens to propagate the class structure. Demonising of an external other, or traitorous domestic foe, to justify draconian measures. Reducing access to education and awareness. Attempts to enforce conformity of belief and behaviour. Bread and circuses to help keep the proletariat amused and distracted? Even some history tweaking. And of course, adapting language to carry a specific message, and ensuring media carry only that message. Ignorance is strength, indeed.

Admittedly, we’re not in Room 101 territory just yet, and S&S did not draw any analogies — for instance, their footage of Oceania’s wars was from World War II, as far as I could tell, and they stuck to Orwell’s script — but the Ministry of Truth echoes were powerful just the same. Orwell’s vision is undiminished.

S&S did a superb job of bringing a relatively complex story to the stage. Winston’s monologues are delivered on big screens — clever, in keeping with the monitoring of citizens and delivery of propaganda by Big Brother — and other characters take up some of the duty. The bank of screens formed the back drop for a sparse, evocatively lit stage, with Cold War-style concrete walls evoking the barren homes and factories, and a swinging stage delivering Winston and Julia’s love nest for sexcrime. [Do check out the Eurythmics’ ‘soundtrack that never was’ 1984: For the Love of Big Brother.]

The screens not only gave Winston his inner voice but also allowed Big Brother to broadcast to the audience, and turned the audience into Big Brother’s observers, seeing off-stage family life and dream sequences as well as tracking the characters’ on-stage movements.

The love scenes and torture scenes were well handled, provoking the barest of titters and squirms from the predominantly school-student matinee audience. And then there were the rats!

Well acted, well delivered, topical. Doubleplusgood. Most excellent.

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5 thoughts on “1984: newspeak is new again

  1. Pingback: Bell Shakespeare’s Henry V: all class | Vampires in the Sunburnt Country

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