An unnerving sensory experience from start to finish is how I describe watching Kelowna Actors Studio live performance of George Orwell’s 1984, at The Workroom theatre.
This version was rewritten by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan, inspired by the footnotes of the novel, and premiered in 2013.
Upon arrival to the venue and even before we entered inside the theatre, ticket holders are met by staff with stern voices and cold matter-of-fact commands to, “Get In Line!” “Take Out Your Phones And Turn Them Off!”
This tense apprehensive ambience set the tone then followed me to my seat and lingered.
The play began with a white desk and chairs bleached in a spotlight. On each of the four walls that boxed us in were large video screens — Big Brother was watching. Throughout the play, these screens were ripe with black and white images of harsh realities of war, torture and violence.
Haunting the atmosphere was a popular London nursery rhyme weaved throughout the 101-minute performance, “oranges and lemons say the bells of St. Clement’s.”
Here we watch Winston Smith (Pete Macleod) a bureaucrat whose job it is to revise history. He explains that the erasing of inconvenient facts that don’t suit the regime, have now taken over his existence as he questions the act of redefining the past and creates a diary alongside the new reality where literature, music, art and sexual pleasure do not exist and any hint of recollection is propagandized into “fake news” defined as “alternative facts.” Hmm, does that sound familiar?
As Winston’s inchoately rebellious thoughts come to life through a group of latter-day readers who enter the stage to debate the diary’s origins and meanings, it is then we are introduced to other characters.
Winston’s love interest, Julia (Dana Murphy), is a sweet girl with a rebellious streak who directs Winston to take a train away from the seeing-eye, to have sex.
As this story-line threads its way through the play, we watch the pair fall in love, and rent a small room above an antique shop to resume their physical as well as mental attraction to each other to a fatal ending.
All the while, the audience is still unsure if Julia is an innocent girl who falls in love or a thought police operative.
Murphy plays into this question mark very well. As we watch her throughout the play, she remains almost one dimensional in tone and tactic.
Mr. Charrington (Stephen Jefferys) who owns the antique shop and private room first presents himself as a kind shopkeeper, with an interest in items of the past, but nothing is as it seems in this play.
Jefferys uses his own English accent to portray his character; I found it quite haunting hearing the gentle accent lure the trust of Winston to his eventual demise.
A work-mate who sits by Winston at the lunch canteen is Parsons (Casey Easton). Each day, he repeats the same story of pride about his daughter (Cate Crozier), but is eventually denounced by her for sleep talking his thoughts, which are criminal.
Easton uses his character to create a disturbing unease. His body language and facial expressions take on a spineless character of a man who becomes a victim of his own fate; but is he real or a memory Winston creates?
Crozier is a stick of dynamite throughout the play. An actress who demands the attention of the room, even when she is sitting cross legged reading a book, when its her line to say, “watch out,” it’s electric and sends shivers.
Mark Sorestad plays O’Brian, a prominent leader in the Inner Party. He seems to be close to Big Brother and may even be part of a collective that makes up Big Brother. O’Brien who stands almost God-like in his white suit represents the Party and all of its contradictions and cruelty.
The standout performance, though, is Macleod’s Winston. The interrogations Winston undergoes in the play’s second half seem graphic enough to verge on actual torture.
Macleod made us feel like we, the audience, were Big Brother watching this torture, begging us to save him, crying from his core for help, while I sat helpless and numb.
1984 will run until Sunday, at the Kelowna Actor’s Studio’s WorkRoom on Enterprise Way. Shows are sold out, but you can put you name on a wait list in case of a cancellation. Call Kelowna Tickets at 250-862-2867.