HAVING presented its adaptation of George Orwell's Animal Farm, shake & stir theatre co. is bringing its version of the author's other dystopian vision with 1984. Although the novel was first published in 1949 and time has overtaken its then future setting, many of its ideas and invented words remain current and influential.
The setting is Oceania, a superstate that engages in perpetual warfare against its enemies and in constant and oppressive surveillance of the population. The maxim "Big Brother is watching you'' is constantly on display, invoking the mythical leader.
Bryan Probets plays Winston Smith, a member of the Outer Party who works for the Ministry of Truth rewriting past newspapers so they always agree with the current party line.
But when he begins a furtive love affair with Julia (Nelle Lee) he is in grave danger: he is guilty of "thought crime'', a serious offence, as is any independence of thought.
"It's a very authentic adaptation,'' Probets says. "The dialogue in the play is 99 per cent Orwell, if not 100 per cent Orwell.'' But, he says, while being true to the novel it is also very theatrical - he is the only one of the five actors who plays the same role throughout.
And a lot of use is made of multimedia with video screens, live video feed and voiceover. "It's done in such away you don't feel short changed at all.''
From an acting point of view, he says, the first third of the play is necessarily empty of all feeling, followed by a middle third which is about the journey to become human and discover love, and then comes the meltdown.
He found it quite intense at first.
"I've done it many times now so it's easier to pull myself out of it but there were times initially when I was crying for no reason, not for the first time with a role.''
As for the story, Probets says it transcends its origins as a novel arising out of the beginning of the Cold War and creating something perceptive and timeless. Countries such as North Korea remain dictatorships but Probets says political and media control can be found anywhere.
"How much freedom do we really have?''
And despite the bleakness of its vision he says the core of it is the spirit to be found in Winston, despite the danger. ''It's never going to date because it's about the human soul.''
* Catch '1984' at The Q Performing Arts Centre, Queanbeyan from April 30 and May 1, 2, 3 at 8pm, May 1 and 2 at 10.30am, May 3 at 2pm. Tickets $48/$43, $40, theq.net.au or 6285 6290.