BWW Review: This 1984 is Not by the Numbers at Comedy Theatre
There is nothing much unfamiliar about the very real invasions of privacy, hyper-surveillance, augmentation of technology, flaws in cybersecurity, and moderate resurgence of feudal attitudes we experience in life that art often imitates. For all its relevance, not to mention its prevalence in secondary school texts, and cult following to boot, 1984 could all-too-easily suffer from a stage adaptation remiss in pushing it beyond its direct correlation to the frankly frightening realities of contemporary living that have emerged almost exactly as predicted by the source material published in just shy of seventy years ago. Mercifully, Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan's adaptation, is anything but by the numbers. What we have here is a visually powerhouse, intellectually dynamic, risk-taking presentation of the modern making of meaning. Potent from the first moment right through until the dripping finale, it's a post-show conversation you don't want to miss.
It will be brutal, but it will be important thereby. The themes of power intersect every relationship on stage, and the corruption of that between friends, lovers, parent to child is a force that is governmentally lucrative. Icke and Macmillan's direction, assisted by Corey McMahon, is not only a paragon of dramaturgy, but also choreography; the momentum and pace of the production is its own character presence. 1984 gear changes well past fifth, and the sensation of discovering how much of a filibuster it is for the cast and crew is stirring. Tim Reid's video design, working in live feeds and Kubrick-Clockwork-style propaganda to explode the nuanced and niche nature of the primary action. The live elements of the production are intimate and precise in their execution, crucial to the suspense, the 'it's coming from inside the house" discovery.
Chloe Lamford's design is confident, detailed, and prepared for anything. The devil is in it. With all the moving parts, kudos to Lamford as well as stage masters Nicola Filsell and Laura Palombella for herding the kittens of this show. This is a production that has courage of its conviction, and its purpose as a social message.
The performers are athletes in their delivery of character, physical performance and emotional expressivity. Tom Conroy, with the lion's share of the content to carry as Winston, was magnetic to watch and he was consistent in communicating the internal torture of his character. Ursula Mills delivers a striking and strong Julia, although the contrast in the character between double agent lover might have been more pronounced, as the uncertainty might have compromised the chemistry. Fiona Press is a welcome presence on stage as the crux of the empathy. Opposingly, Terence Crawford is eerily believable as the Matrix-era-Hugo-Weaving shadow king of the 1984 world, whose third-act monologue linchpins the moral message of the work, which makes for incredible theatre but requires resilience from the audience. The ensemble displays immense talent in contributing to the message of the work, in ways that make multiple visits to the Comedy Theatre to see it very much valid.
1984 has for several decades had a profound impact on contemporary discourse, and with the help of a huge cohort of production companies across the world, the message won't only continue to have that impact, but will diversify to connect with people who aren't just reading it, or watching it, but living it.