As intriguing and creative as it is disturbing
Blurring the lines between dystopia and reality, 1984 hits the spot when it comes to creating the perfect mix of oppressive but gripping entertainment. Aided by precise direction from Christian Longstaff, this production not only offers an insight into the mind of the protagonist Winston Smith (Rob Monteiro), but also reaches into the minds of the audience as well.
Whilst the plot is already well-known enough, this production certainly offered some new insight into the dystopian world with which the audience was acquainted. What was particularly striking was the coordination between the lighting design and the sound design, which complimented each other well despite the occasional lack of sufficient volume for sound effects and voiceovers.
For me, it was the minimal but effective work of lighting designer Sophie Richardson that really made the performance, coordinating not only with the sound designed by producer Ewan Woods and the video displayed on the televisions acting as “telescreens,” but also the costumes designed by Mabel Oliver. This really hit home during Nathanial Gunn‘s choreography for the “two minutes hate,” as the different brightly coloured flashing lights made the ensemble’s costumes in coordinating colours really stand out.
From its opening, 1984 certainly set the tone for what was to come. The sight of a heaving Corpus Playhouse stuffed almost to bursting was definitely oppressive enough to match the plot. In addition, lead Rob Monteiro’s presence on the stage – looking suitably miserable I might add – from the moment you walked in gave the impression that this was not a performance you would want to look away from.
Throughout the performance, Monteiro’s attitude did not falter. From clenching his fists before the performance started without letting the excited audience distract him to directly breaking the fourth wall in the play’s concluding scene, the lead kept up a tense and agitated air which felt like he was not only portraying but becoming Winston Smith.
Nevertheless, in my opinion, the standout performance in this production was Irisa Kwok‘s Julia, due to the subtle versatility with which she was able to switch from a suspiciously unassuming loyal party worker to a rebellious free spirit – a transformation aided no doubt by the iconic red dress she wears for much of the second half.
As a duo, these two actors may be hard to beat. It was a pleasure to see the dazzling chemistry they brought to the stage, both during their scripted exchanges and in the small laugh when Kwok tossed a prop box of teabags at Monteiro just a little bit hard.
However, it is clear to see that this production was a valiant team effort, with the entire cast heavily leaning into their respective lighting and sound motifs as well as their costume design. From the red light which was utilised in almost every one of Kwok’s appearances to the bright white light and distorted sound used to suggest the protagonist’s agitation and a feeling of general interrogation, this production team has certainly worked almost seamlessly together to bring this narrative alive for the audience.
Overall, despite its minor faults and arguably lacking sound design considering the success of its lighting, 1984 both effectively creates and breaks down its own version of George Orwell’s dystopia in a neat two hours, leaving little room for improvement.
1984 is showing from 9th-13th May at the Corpus Playroom at 7pm. Book your tickets here.
Feature Image Credit: Orchid Balgobin