Posts Tagged ‘big brother



shake & stir 1984


shake & stir theatre co.

QPAC Cremorne 

August 16 – September 1 2012


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward




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!



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.