Who Is Being Tortured In 1984?

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1984 Andi Crown

ASSAULTING the audience is a good way to be inclusive in theatre.

The staging of George Orwell’s 1984 at the Esplanade Theatre as part of this year’s Singapore International Festival Of Arts subjects the audience to blinding strobe flashes, loud noises and information bursts meant to disorient and discomfort.

It may not have been intended as such, but it’s a 4D production that also expects the audience to have a fairly good idea of what Orwell’s dystopian book is about.

Not that most people don’t know what 1984 symbolises.

Published in 1949, Orwell’s view of a world half a century hence, mired in misery for the population, may not have been entirely accurate.

But it’s not inaccurate either. Given the nature of global policing and military might on show, this is a planet being watched and not without its fair share of explosive anti-establishment reactionary acts.

In interpreting Orwell’s novel, Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan have attempted to bring some of the concepts to current levels of awareness of policing and probing, but always keeping a period perspective on things.

Updated 1984

There’s a mobile device, a montage of captured monitored footage, and that sheep image to remind us of where the population is positioned in the scheme of things.

By pummelling the audience with stunning lights and sounds, we are left dazed and somewhat confused by bursts of information that allude to a whole, without entirely communicating in its entirety.

It can be disconcerting and the expectation is you already know what’s happened, so, here’s another road to that end for you to think about.


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The cast on Friday night delivered a clean performance that was perfectly timed. Pauses, choruses and actions were delivered with precision, with that slightly dispassionate sense of exaggerated hysteria. Set movements were smart and the use of a bank of monitors helped in keeping the flow going, without the need for set changes or an intermission.

So, it was pretty relentless.

1984 Andi Crown
Tom Conroy’s idealistic Winston has misplaced visions of a better world.

The forbidden love between Winston and Julia served as the centrepiece for Tom Conroy and Rose Riley to have a go at the system. But, the ever watchful system will prevail, and it will punish.

The interrogation scene was reminiscent of the recent Select Committee On Deliberate Online Falsehoods — intense, incessant, albeit sans blood and rodents. In this era of devious devices and deviant marketing, the 1984 that Orwell penned has burgeoned into a systemic infringement of human rights and violation of privacy in the name of a greater good.

To some extent, everyone has their own personal 1984 to deal and cope with.

For more information on SIFA visit https://sifa.sg

Photos: Andi Crown


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