Adelaide Theatre Guild Student Society. Little Theatre. 16 Sep 2023
George Orwell’s 1984 should be on every university student’s must-read list, along with The Hobbit, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, A Separate Reality, Brave New World, and George Orwell again, Animal Farm. English writer Orwell’s fable, Animal Farm, was penned when WWII was barely over in August 1945 to illustrate how fascism takes root, ie: Hitler and Germany. Four years later, 1984 is a cautionary tale of dystopian totalitarian Britain. Orwell’s nemesis this time was Russia’s communism. These themes earned Orwell his own descriptive adjective: Orwellian. And first-time Adelaide Theatre Guild Student Society’s director Oswin Kwan may know something about this, having re-located from Hong Kong in 2018 after the failed Umbrella Movement of 2014. The Chinese government has recently disappeared its foreign and defense ministers.
Californian Michael Gene Sullivan wrote this adaptation in 2006. While the novel is chronologically linear, Sullivan chose to set the action during the interrogation of the hapless Winston Smith with the context and events leading up to that point weaved in as flashback, often abstractly, using physical movement and multiple role-playing.
The topic is important, and the novel is famous so the play should be seen, but there are many theatrical elements that let the show down. Party members are suitably dressed alike in blue jumpsuit-type outfits suggesting blind unity and alienation (costumes: Jehosheba Manoa). We’ll get to The Interrogator later, but our protagonist, Winston Smith, played by Liam Warmeant, is dressed in a white get-up resembling Indian traditional dress. As the audience takes seats before lights up, Warmeant lounges for a considerable time on a platform that one may guess is wired up for torture. That may have overly relaxed him; his Smith often sits cross-legged and looks as blissed out as a yoga instructor. Nothing seems to ruffle him, not all the shouting that’s going on, not his desperate predicament, not what should have been a torrid and excitingly furtive relationship with Julia, played with nearly equally unsuitable equanimity by Veronika Wlodarczyk. Ooooooommmmmm. The sparks of humanity never catch fire and they seem to suffer from dissocia.
The party members, played by Henry Chipperfield, Rajiv Paranavithana and Lily Watkins, are performed without nuance but with extraordinary volume that frequently strains enunciation. Watkins presented a lovely character in the shopkeeper. Abstract physical movement often seems pointless or is a poor replacement for some real action (movement director: Deli Cooper).
Adam Bullmore was a very welcome addition late in the piece. After a decade in the army, Bullmore’s gone arty. His Interrogator is nattily attired, and he performs with an intimidating panache that reminds of Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet. Although a very nuanced, suave and intelligent performance, it was all hard work for Bullmore as Warmeant’s Smith remained relatively unfazed, even when confronted with a diabolical torture that should have caused him unimaginable fear and anxiety and turned stomachs over in the audience.
Although Sullivan may not have made the best choices in his adaptation, there is a whole lot more to get out this script.
When: 14 to 17 Sep
Where: The Little Theatre