1984: The harsh price you pay for bucking the system

"O'Brien" (David Whitney) brings chilling realism to the stage as he tortures Winston Smith (Bryan Probets). Picture: TARA GOONAN
"O'Brien" (David Whitney) brings chilling realism to the stage as he tortures Winston Smith (Bryan Probets). Picture: TARA GOONAN

SHAKE & Stir Theatre Company's production of George Orwell's bleak futurist novel 1984 kicks off the Hothouse season in a brilliant fusion of human and technical values.

Orwell's vision of a state-controlled world guarded by the omnipresent Big Brother remains tantalising.

Blind Freddy can see that when bureaucracies flourish, the role of the individual is diminished.

When Winston Smith earns his living by sanitising history in the name of political correctness, it's just a short step to assert that two plus two makes five.

And at all times, a TV monitor spies on home life while children are encouraged to dob in their parents for any hint of anti-Party sentiment.

Similar teasing scenarios are woven through the story as Winston Smith and Julia dare to question the Party and its intrusive policies.

Of course, they pay dearly for daring to be individuals.

The culmination of the story shows a broken Winston slobbering into his cheap gin and facing Julia with: "I betrayed you." She replies, "I betrayed you, too."

This is one of the most carefully integrated productions I've experienced.

The emotional circumstances conjured by Orwell in print are superbly realised on stage.

The cast of five actors bring great intensity to their roles, with a bank of large plasma screens supplying an ongoing commentary.

Also, a grey-toned set and minimalist furnishings emphasise the sterility of daily life, while lighting is deployed resonantly to underscore summer sunshine and frosty torture cell atmospheres in turn.

Director Michael Futcher has secured a cracking pace from his cast, often swiftly rearranging the set under cover from on-screen happenings.

The bookshop and its bedroom attic appear as if from nowhere, and the decision to go for verismo yields chilling realism in the torture segment with the use of electrical apparatus.

Caged live rats, too, face Winston in Room 101.

The cast of Ross Balbuziente, Nelle Lee, Bryan Probets, Nick Skubij and David Whitney operate fluently in both individual and ensemble terms, bringing conviction to Orwell's range of characters.

Special mention here to Roberts and Lee for piercing portrayals of Winston and Julia in this razor-sharp story.

The production is at the Butter Factory Theatre in Wodonga until May 24.