Posts Tagged ‘1984

17
Jun
17

1984

 

1984

QPAC, ATG, GWB Entertainment & STCSA 

QPAC Lyric Theatre

June 14 – 18 2017

 

Reviewed by Katy Cotter

 

 

The Lyric Theatre is a venue I rarely visit and I’m always overwhelmed by its grandeur. I witnessed a spectacular and mind-boggling theatrical adaptation of George Orwell’s novel 1984. Co-creators and directors, Duncan Macmillan and Robert Icke found that interrogating the appendix of the book provided a new access point into the work, and helped them devise an exciting and terrifyingly current production.

 

 

For those who have not read the book, this show will have you falling down the rabbit hole, discovering a strange world with fresh eyes, and being confronted with characters you don’t completely trust. Orwell’s dystopian classic, first published in 1949, follows protagonist Winston Smith (Tom Conroy) a citizen of Airstrip One that was formerly known as Great Britain. The world is at war and the government is keeping a close eye on their people. A very close eye. Party leader of the state Oceania, known as Big Brother, has his city under constant surveillance and is swift to persecute anyone who steps out of line. This is a world where individualism is snubbed.

 

Freedom of speech, even the right to own your thoughts, feelings and ideas, will see you “erased” from existence.

 

 

The play opens with Winston writing a diary. To whom he is writing to, even he is unsure. The next generation? Is it a warning to remember the past and history as he knows it? Winston is aware the world he lives in is vile and unjust, eradicating that which does not fit with Big Brother’s ideology, providing a clean slate and obtaining total power. Winston wants to stand up against his oppressors and provoke change. He is also aware of being watched, and could be seized by the Thought Police at any moment. After a romance is kindled between Winston and another citizen, Julia, they decide to risk their lives and fight for freedom.

 

 

Macmillan and Icke intended to create a visceral experience, and they succeeded. There was a tension sustained that never allowed the audience to settle or become complacent. We were continually searching for meaning and truth. Or was that even important in the end? The sound (Tom Gibbons) and lighting (Natasha Chivers) was electric, breathing life into the ever-present and watchful Big Brother, and sending out shock waves, warning the audience to pay attention, “Where do you think you are?”

 

 

The physicality of the actors was next-level and helped blur the lines of reality and false-memory within the show. The “book-club” scene was repeated and each time a new discovery was made, unsettling the audience, as well as Winston who becomes increasingly un-reliable as time goes on. The cast hit every beat that ricocheted seamlessly from one to the other, showcasing how engrossing live theatre can be. A favourite performance of mine was Parsons (Paul Blackwell), whose comedic timing and honeyed vocals made him such a joy to watch. He was the bright light in contrast to Martin (Renato Musolino) who was deliciously menacing; you couldn’t let him out of your sight.

 

 

Winston and Julia met several times in a secluded room where they were free to be themselves, to love each other, and discuss how they could contribute to the rebellion. This room was offstage with a video camera inside that was projected onto the set, allowing the audience to see and hear everything. The lovers were unaware they were being watched. I must admit the use of the video projection for some reason did not work. I understand the intention behind it: Big Brother is always watching, but I felt disengaged. I was straining to connect to Winston, who in these moments had important and illuminating thoughts. I found it funny since we are so used to viewing things on screens nowadays, but I came to the theatre for a reason. Perhaps this was a conscious decision by the creators (and by extension, Orwell) for us as viewers to continue to question the norm.   

 

 

Spoiler alert: when Winston and Julia are captured by the Thought Police and interrogated at the Ministry of Love, the set is torn apart, and in this moment, I screamed inside. I absolutely love when sets are transformed, alluding to a shift of perception; a change in the fabric of the world to which we had grown accustomed. The ending reveals the true identity of Big Brother, who comes to question Winston and everything he thought he knew about himself, about love, sanity, war, the list goes on. Terence Crawford’s performance is supreme as he digs into Winston’s brain, into the audience’s brain. His voice sent me into a trance and I was complacent in watching him torture Winston into admitting he was superfluous. I sat in my seat, gob-smacked, overwhelmed with information, filling up with questions.

 

 

Something that stuck with me is that power will continue to corrupt. There will always be someone at the top and someone at the bottom. This is what makes 1984 a timeless story, and why it’s important to continue interrogating. It speaks to the oppressed and why it is paramount that people stand up for what they believe to be right. I left the theatre terrified with the realisation that everyone is so vastly different. There are numerous cultures, languages, ideologies that often divide humans instead of uniting them. Every individual believes they are standing up and fighting for the right reasons.

 

This adaptation is magnanimous on so many levels. It steam-rolls Orwell’s novel into the 21st Century where the same themes are painfully current and expressed with renewed vigour. It rips you from your seat and spits you back into the world to question everything you thought you knew.

 

This 1984 is a glorious example of the power of theatre.

31
Jul
14

1984: A chat with David Whitney

 

David Whitney took a moment to tell us know about his role in 1984, working and touring with shake & stir, and what it takes to make awesome agents and directors.

 

DavidWhitney_B&W

 

Mister, you’re playing O’Brien in the return season of shake & stir’s 1984 (a production that terrified me)! Tell us about your character, and how you came to join this acclaimed production with one of our favourite Queensland companies.

O’ Brien is a member of the Inner Party and as such part of the ruling class. Our hero Winston, played by Bryan Probets, comes to believe that O’Brien is a friend and ally in his rebellion against the state. Is Winston wise to put his trust in O’Brien? You’ll have to see the show to find out, but clearly the character I play is something of a shape shifter, at times charming, at times menacing, at times brutal.

I had previously worked with Bryan in the QTC/Bell Shakespeare production of The Alchemist, and when the role of the evil, manipulative O’Brien became available for this tour and return season, Bryan thought I’d be perfect! Not quite sure how to take that but it’s been one of the great experiences of my career so I am deeply indebted to shake & stir for welcoming me to their great company. I had seen the archival recording of the 2012 production and immediately recognised that it was something I would love to do. It has come as a bonus to get to know shake & stir – one of the best companies I have ever worked for and clearly destined for a bright future.

 

Can you tell us about working on 1984 and in The Alchemist (2009) with Bryan Probets, who recommended you for the role of O’Brien? How important is your network?

Our characters didn’t actually meet in The Alchemist so this time it is very different in that Bryan and I work very closely, almost intimately together. I had admired his work on The Alchemist and on screen but working so closely with him this time has been such a pleasure. It really is a battle of wills and minds out there between our characters and we are utterly dependent on each other to be present and alive. Our scenes need to be a knife-edge game of cat and mouse (or cat and rat) and so it is deeply satisfying to have played that game with Bryan over the last 5 months.

As far as a network is concerned, this situation is unusual. Yes Bryan recommended me, and Nick, Ross and Nelle had seen some of my work, but they still asked around, as it was important not only that I was right for the role, but also that I would be a good temperament for the tour and to fit into what is a tight company. So I guess in this situation, my network helped. But network is not something I work at. I probably should work harder at it but that’s not really me. I try to do good work and be good to work with and hope that that speaks for itself.

 

We saw you in Mrs Warren’s Profession for STC (2013). How did you prepare for this, er, slightly different role?

Coincidentally, in both cases I was replacing another actor who was unavailable for a return season, so my preparations were quite similar. Both had shorter rehearsal times and I was required to fit in with a pre existing moves and production…quite happily in both cases as I admired both productions enormously. In both cases the directors (Michael Futcher 1984, Sarah Giles MWP) were very respectful and welcoming, as were the casts. I did all the normal preparation of research, understanding the play and the character etc, but the biggest difference was that in both cases I learnt the lines before rehearsal started. Normally I find that over 4 to 5 weeks of rehearsal the lines sort of learn themselves, through discussion, repetition and association with the blocking and interaction with the other actors. With 1984 and Mrs Warren, because of the short rehearsal time, I felt it best to be on top of it from day 1, mainly so as not to hold back the other actors who had already performed these roles numerous times. It still allowed for freedom and new discoveries but it just got everyone up to speed a lot more quickly.

 

Did you ever watch Big Brother?

No. To be willingly observed 24 hours a day is baffling to me. Being locked in that house with those people is my idea of Orwell’s Room101.

 

Did you read Orwell’s 1984 at school? What was your response to the novel and what was your response to this script? How much research do you generally try to do for a show?

I read it at NIDA as research for some show we were devising about alienation and dystopia. I loved the novel then and still do. It’s relevance to contemporary society only increases with time, as surveillance becomes more prevalent and as governments continue to manipulate information to suit their own purposes.

shake & stir’s adaptation is very faithful to the book and has elements of politics and language manipulation (Newspeak) but concentrates on the human dimension…the characters of Winston and Julia and the brief  blossoming of their humanity, before it is stamped out by the state, as represented by my character. It’s that human interaction which is the stuff of drama and so makes it entertaining and involving for an audience. It also makes it very satisfying as an actor to play. I like to do lots of research. Obviously in this case reading the book, but knowing about Orwell and finding contemporary parallels politically and socially. I scour the media for references both literal and visual – anything that helps me enter into the world of the play.

 

When you are asked to audition how do you prepare for that experience? What are your favourite tips for actors?

I think it is all about the preparation – doing as much research as you can to know about the world of the play/film, the character, the director and to know the words (or the song if it’s a musical) as well as you can. The more prepared you are the more likely it will be that you can be relaxed, proactive and importantly, spontaneous in the audition room. The other great tip is to forget about it once it is done. There is nothing more you can do and it is out of your hands. Easier said than done, and not always advice I adhere to.

 

You work in TV and film too – what are the major differences for actors between work on stage and screen and what do you love about each medium?

It is all about story telling and being truthful, clear and interesting. The differences are about adjusting your performance to the appropriate size. You can be huge on film if it is truthful but there is no doubt stillness and economy are usually the way to go. But even in theatre one must adjust to different size spaces, as we have just done in over 30 venues – from 1500 seats down to 250. You keep the truth but play with the size of delivery, in volume, intensity, gesture – every way with mind, voice and body.  I love being able to be simpler on camera and finding intensity and intimacy…but I also love the technical demands of hitting the back row in a theatre and make sure the received truth is strong for every member of the audience.

 

What did you learn from your NIDA training?

It’s a long time ago! I had great teachers and I learnt a lot technically in voice and movement, and I learnt a Stanislavski based method of script / character analysis that I still use today. Most importantly I learnt form my head of acting, George Whaley, that an actor should have an opinion and should have something to say!  Sometimes that means a political or social message; sometimes it is about the human condition. The great plays / films combine both.

 

What’s the best thing you’ve learned outside of your formal training?

To laugh more – to play more and to take risks and be naughty. My favourite actors are the wicked ones. I was too careful and methodical early on. Too safe. I still prepare thoroughly but I try to be more spontaneous as well.

 

What qualities make an awesome agent?

Well my present agent, Mollison Keightley Management are awesome, as was my first agent, the legendary Bill Shanahan. In both cases, I felt as though I could talk to them openly and frankly and that they absolutely had my best interests at heart. The agent should have an insight into the sort of work that you would like to do and would be good for you. We all have different needs and a good agent, like a good director, should be alive to the best way to handle each wonderful, talented, neurotic, difficult individual. A good agent will guide you but the actor is ultimately the one who is in control – hard to remember sometimes when we feel we are completely at the mercy of casting directors and producers – which we are to some extent, but a good agent always feel like they are on your side, and is there to say ” oh well, didn’t get that job, but here’s what’s next.”

 

What makes a director good to work with? Can you tell us about working with Michael Futcher?

See above for my comments about what makes a good director – plus empathy, energy, respect, creativity, humour. The director should know the play better than anyone and have firm ideas while also being completely open to the input of others. They also need the ability to control a room, make and keep a productive schedule and make the rehearsal room as fun and serious as it needs to be. All of which Michael Futcher has in spades. Quite simply one of the best I have worked with. The rehearsal process for me for 1984 was so enjoyable, as Michael was so respectful of me and my situation as the new cast member, gave me really detailed and nuanced suggestions – but also watched what I did and allowed that to generate new ideas. He also loves language as I do, so we very particular about certain words and how to use them. I would work with him again anytime. He should be directing for main stage companies constantly…and I hope when he does I get to work with him again.

 

How do you connect with the other actors on stage? Do you hang out in between shows or for the sake of this character, and these relationships on stage; do you keep a bit of distance?

Connecting on stage is simply about being present and alive moment to moment. It’s just something one automatically does through focus and concentration, and willingly giving over to the given circumstances. Any moments of self-consciousness, I try to avoid by focusing on the other actors and how I am trying to affect them…what I am doing to them and receiving what they are giving to me.

And yes, we hang out together all the time. The coldness and distance of O’ Brien is only for the stage, as I can’t think of a better cast to socialise with. We have so much fun back stage too, despite the seriousness and dour nature of 1984.

 

How do you survive on tour?

As I said, we socialised a lot and the whole gang, cast and crew were a very happy bunch. There are always times when I need some solitude and everybody was very respectful of that…the hardest thing was saying no when the Shake and Stir guys would try to twist my arm to visit some fabulous bar or restaurant…their energy is so admirable and infectious that we were able to find the positive in just about every town. I also walk a lot, so I would always head for the beach or the river during the daytime and get some exercise and clear my head.

 

What does down time look like?

I teach acting when I am not in a performing role…and I try to read, exercise and stay connected to what is going on in the industry.  Basically I am pretty lazy so I hope down time doesn’t go on for too long as I like the discipline of a long run to keep me busy.

 

What are you working on next?

Well as soon as 1984 finishes I am travelling to the US as my daughter is starting college at NYU and I am going over with her to settle her in as well as see some shows in New York that I will be auditioning for back here. After that I don’t know. There are a couple of things floating around that hopefully will take me through to Christmas…but who knows. I’ve had a great year and something will turn up. It always does, eventually.

 

And what is shake & stir up to next? You know it will sell out, don’t you? Right. So book your tix already!

Wuthering_Heights_header

26
Jan
14

shake & stir’s Queensland Youth Shakespeare Festival finalists in The Tempest

 

The Tempest 

Shake & Stir Theatre Co

Brisbane Powerhouse

January 20 – 21 2014

 

Reviewed by Meredith McLean

 

We are such stuff as dreams are made on…

 

BPH_The_Tempest_1_2014-1180x663

 

Shake & Stir are always putting on something daring. These guys make theatre as if it is it’s own living universe and not a show we have to sit back and watch. It feels like the whole show grows and changes with us on the night and we forget that there were rehearsed lines.

 

The top 30 competitors from the Inaugural QLD Youth Shakespeare Festival combine their powers in this multi-arts exploration of Shakespeare’s late great work, The Tempest.

 

So the top 30 Queensland Youth Shakespeare Festival Finalists who performed Shakespeare’s Tempest last week were nothing short of what Shake & Stir embodies.

 

The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known works. Simply put, it is the tale of a great storm bringing two lovers together while a magically enhanced father, with the aid of nymphs and other foolish spirits, makes mischief for all on his island. What made this performance equally incredible was that the display of choreography, lighting, acting and atmosphere was pulled together in one week.

 

Matt Walsh, Shake & Stir’s Resident Company Actor, appeared in this production as the great and powerful (and cheeky) Prospero. This is a role familiar to him, and he delivered it with the awe and wit that Prospero would have had were he real and truly ruling his own bizarre island.

 

The students got to add a touch of their own perception to the play too. The experience and opportunity for them was to really delve into a great play that not many have studied. But in understanding the text they first had to compare it to their own perspective. This was done in humourous ways such as the drunkard character Stephano, played by Liam Soden, carrying a sack of “goon”, and the daughter of Prospero – Miranda, played by India Oswin, telling her father he was embarrassing her in front of her crush. This further confirms the argument, which Shake and Stir tackled last year when they asked, is Shakespeare still relevant?

 

This excellent display of young Queensland talent sadly stayed at the Powerhouse for only two nights. But the glorious, oceanic stage was a wonderful sight for those who did get a chance to see it, and support Queensland’s youth, which hopefully we all do from time to time. They are, after all, the future of our industry.

 

Ed’s note:

 

Hot tip for teachers – don’t let your students miss the opportunity to work alongside Shake & Stir, ever. If we could clone these guys and put them into all Australian schools you’d never hear another kid complain about having to study Shakespeare again. There’s no question that Shake & Stir has helped keep Shakespeare not only relevant but vital to Australian school students.

 

Keep an eye out for details about this year’s Queensland Youth Shakespeare Festival and book now, if you haven’t already (you haven’t already?!) for the return season of their fearless and flawless production of Orwell’s 1984 directed by Michael Futcher and featuring Ross Balbuziente, Nelle Lee, Bryan Probets, Nick Skubij & David Whitney at QPAC 15 July – 2 August 2014

 

 

25
Aug
12

1984

shake & stir 1984

1984

shake & stir theatre co.

QPAC Cremorne 

August 16 – September 1 2012

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU

 

And by Big Brother, of course I mean George Orwell’s and not Network Ten’s. Written in 1948, Orwell’s prophetic horror story of a state’s absolute power over the individual, in the current political climate, feels more relevant than ever.

I missed shake & stir’s production of the multi-Matilda Award winning Animal Farm last year. There have been many times since then that I’ve thought to myself, “Self, you really should have seen Animal Farm last year.” Now, after experiencing their faithful adaptation of Orwell’s 1984 (like Animal Farm, it’s the first theatrical adaptation of the novel in this country), I can honestly say I intend never to miss another main stage show from shake and stir.

This is a relatively young company, as far as main stage experience goes. Education Queensland accredited, they are more often seen in our schools. (Well, in those schools smart enough to book them well in advance). Their current touring show, Statespeare (“studying Shakespeare suckeths”), has been nominated for a coveted Helpmann Award. Not only that, but through their connections with students and teachers along the way, I ‘reckon shake & stir theatre co. receives more feedback via social media than just about any other Brisbane-based theatre company. The larger companies can learn from these young guns, a thing or two about the power of Instagram! I expect to see them on Pinterest next! With their increasing presence across the state and online, and with this powerful production, impressively staged in QPAC’s most intimate space, the Cremorne Theatre, shake & stir have become the company to watch.

Under Michael Futcher’s intelligent and daring direction, this show is flawless. Futcher has missed none of the powerful motifs from the original, horrifying novel, beautifully translating to the stage, the fear of rising power that, at the time, Orwell sought to warn readers about (he feared the lengths that Spanish and Russian communist governments were prepared to go to, in order to gain control of their citizens would catch on in the West). We feel the threat of oppression and absolute control by a totalitarian government that monitors its citizens 24/7. In Oceania, even thoughts can be crimes.

As we enter the theatre under a couple of rather intimidating searchlights and sit down before an immense wall of television screens sporting the eyes of Big Brother, we sense that all is not well. Understatement of the year? Perhaps. There is a distinct air of foreboding. The impressive digital display is built into a brilliant bomb-stricken set, which is full of surprises, revealing secret spaces and allowing easy access to props as well as providing gasp-worthy changes of scene as the plot rushes along and suddenly takes a turn into a well-balanced blissful state. Josh McIntosh has designed the ideal, austere interior, incorporating optikal bloc’s technology. I loved optikal bloc’s input into Anna McGahan’s He’s Seeing Other People Now and this effort too is impressive. The pre-recorded footage would mean little however, without the physicality and the prowess of the actors on stage. Particularly effective are the opening couple of minutes, the disturbing “two minutes of hate”, which had – believe it or not – a stronger impact on stage in 2012 than on screen in the 1984 released film.

As the long-suffering Winston Smith, Bryan Probets is outstanding, delivering his best work when he is silent on stage and his gaunt, pre-filmed face utters his every thought on screen. (It’s fascinating to see an audience struggle, not knowing which face to watch!). It’s a truly cinematic effect and testament to shake & stir’s commitment to establishing authentic connections with their audiences and challenging the forms and styles of traditional theatre making. As Smith takes step after tentative step towards certain doom (taking his lover, Julia, with him), “We watch on in enraptured horror, but…like Winston, manage to hold on to hope.” The hope is fleeting. The interrogation sequences within Room 101 are completely terrifying, the stuff of nightmares, which is of course the point and the conclusion, unhappily, is inevitable. I defy you to keep from squirming and shifting uncomfortably throughout. I guess the overriding hope is that it will never come to this outside of a book or a proscenium arch.

Boasting an enviable collective skill set, this ensemble is superb. Hugh Parker, Ross Balbuziente, Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij join Probets in what must be 2012’s most ambitious bit of storytelling (and arguably, the best told). Josh McIntosh (Designer), Jason Glenwright (Lighting Designer), Guy Webster (Composer/Sound Designer), optikal bloc (Media Producers) and Ben Shaw (Stage Manager) complete the formidable creative team that will, I suspect, take home another couple of Matildas this year for their fearless and flawless production of 1984. Bravo!

1984

11
Jul
12

He’s Seeing Other People Now

He's Seeing Other People Now

Metro Independents, Anna McGahan & Melanie Wild

Sue Benner Theatre

5th – 21st July 2012

Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Lord Acton (1834-1902)

Big Brother is watching you…

It’s Brisbane (but not as we know it) and it’s about to burn. It’s probably best, considering that no one is allowed to touch, talk much or even eat on the city’s trains or in its streets…the people are being watched, Big Brother style, and by Big Brother; I don’t mean the “reality” commercial television hit! It’s Brisbane’s worst nightmare and all we can do is hope that this frightening futuristic scenario remains contained within the realm of the play.

Image by Amelia Dowd

He’s Seeing Other People Now is Heath Ledger Scholarship winner, Anna McGahan’s bold debut as a playwright, though you may better know her as an actor – unforgettable – in Underbelly: Razor. Strangely, the actress we see on stage looks a little like McGahn. She is Katy Curtain, paired perfectly with the faultless Norman Doyle. During more than one interlude, he generously shares the full gamut of emotion while she shows us mere glimpses of what’s happening on the inside. They are beautifully balanced as Fay and Archie, an enormous distance between them, in a world that is hell-bent on destroying any attempts by the two to get to know each other. They are not the same Fay and Archie though, that we see each time we hear the Disney read-aloud storybook “ding”, indicating that the metaphorical page may be turned and a new scene begun.

One of the final sequences is a projection of Curtain, from the mirror’s POV, readying herself to go out after curfew. I wanted to watch the real Curtain in the nook next to the stage space but found myself enthralled by her stunning image cast, in extreme close-up, upon the screen as the real-time footage was streamed. I also loved the political porn star caught out by the audience member during a telling Q&A session, which follows the screening of her controversial film but I had to wonder sometimes about why we needed to meet some of the other characters at all. With each new scene there is a new tale to be told within the already layered story (and a new set of characters to tell it). With the pace moving as swiftly as the trains projected onto the screen behind, you’d better be concentrating in order to keep up. In fact, just try to look away!

Image buy Amelia Dowd

I tried because I like to get a sense of how the audience is responding to the work but I couldn’t allow my eyes to stray too long from optikal bloc’s incredible imagery; these guys, Craig Wilkinson and Stephen Brodie, are unwittingly the stars of the show, doing for Brisbane theatre what U2 did for the world of pop music. With a strict curfew looming, we find ourselves at a propaganda-plastered Central Station and then, suddenly, magically, in real time as the actors move, we join Fay and Archie inside one of the train’s compartments. This is new, neat work and if you pride yourself on keeping up with the local scene, you’ll make sure you see this show for its slick creative win. As this show develops, very little in this regard needs to change. Subtle, slightly moody lighting by Daniel Anderson and an eerie sound design, incorporating surprisingly upbeat (under the government-enforced circumstances, but then this is the point) voiceovers by Lucas Stibbard and Barb Lowing, by composer, Phil Slade, support the AV. Along with Designer, Jessica Ross, the talented team produces effects on stage to rival some of the current creative favourites and makes it easier for us to take on board the challenging themes by making them even more familiar, more sinister..

Director, Melanie Wild, has kept her set simple and her actors unencumbered, allowing the actors and the design team to create the totalitarian world we find ourselves in for the 60 minutes duration (yes, it’s intense) and uses her crew to throw us off balance, making us wonder where we are by the end of it all.

Without giving anything away, the final five minutes of the show is brilliant and bewildering, surely challenging even the most experienced theatregoer. Be prepared to be taken completely by surprise and then be prepared to be taken out of the space before (well, actually, in lieu of) witnessing any sort of satisfying conclusion to the play! Convincingly executed, the meta-theatrics of He’s Seeing Other People Now are sure to inspire more heated discussion than its political themes will.

Image by Amelia Dowd

McGahan’s is rare new work; in that it feels incomplete but also manages to tackle massive, relevant issues within its story as well as challenge us to reconsider the notion of what theatre is (and what it’s for). I can’t wait to see what becomes of this piece. It infuriates me and intrigues me. Look for it in another form or in its next creative development phase at a theatre near you.