Seemingly ever-more relevant in our age of ubiquitous tech and social media surveillance, the Questors Theatre celebrates its 90th anniversary with a new production of Matthew Dunster’s stage adaptation of Orwell’s classic tale of Big Brother dystopia.
In a future with a boot stamping on a human face forever, rebel Winston Smith fights back against the system even as he works in a government office responsible for erasing and rewriting the history of the Revolution and The War, with devastating consequences for him and the non-conforming woman he loves.
Director Roger Beaumont’s production is a technically spectacular achievement, with the lavish, beautifully detailed set making ingenious use of multiple video screens, sound systems and film to immerse the audience in an unusually participative, cinematic theatre experience. Lighting and sound renders the unfolding scenes in visually striking, artful ways, and the entire show’s Production Team deserves high praise for pulling off such outstanding, complex technical work which is by far the biggest highlight of the show.
Regrettably for this production, however, it seems that perhaps too much effort went into executing the technical side without a hitch, and that the actors’ need for rehearsals went neglected. With few exceptions, the majority of the cast seem to still be in the early phases of book work, doing little more than reciting their lines, albeit with great enthusiasm, but which nevertheless betrays a lack of thorough character work, leaving them feeling as though they are actors playing characters, not yet believably the characters themselves. The effect leaves Winston and Julia in particular feeling robotic, flying in the face of perhaps the entire point of the work, that the pair stand out as recognisably emotive and human against the brain-addled masses they rebel against. Later scenes that should inspire disturbed horror and revulsion are left far less impactful for it.
That less technically lavish productions have previously portrayed more believable versions all of the characters is a shame, and perhaps a warning against hyperfocus on one component over the other in future productions. Suspension of disbelief is often far more contingent on an actors’ ability to sell that belief than any lavish set’s efforts to convince an audience.
Still, there are some memorable performances to be found. David Erdos clearly enjoys chewing the scenery as an unconventionally loud O’Brien, John Turner’s Man in Pub is someone you’d like to share a half with, and the inventive staging of Simon Taylor’s Goldstein in his signature scene will, in the Questors’ particular space, surely give former students flashbacks to their stultifying lectures.
It runs until 16 November
Review: Christopher O'Dea Giordano