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Review: 1984

4 stars

The latest adaptation of George Orwell's seminal 1984 is a gripping, visceral – and at times confronting – exploration of power gone mad, arriving in Melbourne at a time where art such as this is more important than ever.  
 
In the current climate of #fakenews, and 'alternative facts' – one thing is explicitly clear. Truth has never been more vulnerable. Moreover, politicians and those who seek to govern us across the globe have demonstrated repeatedly that they aren't bound by the truth. In fact, they seek to weaponise it. After all, how can society revolt when they're led to believe there's nothing worth revolting against? One only needs to look towards the hermit kingdom of North Korea, the targeted killings of journalists across the globe, or the current state of US politics to see how Orwell's nightmare has become a reality.
 
1984 begins by declaring its own relevancy to these times, as a book club dissects a copy of the text. It's a suitably meta moment that comes full circle by the time the final curtain closes. Tom Conroy's interpretation of Winston Smith is a tour de force of his talent. We see the world through his eyes, desperately clinging to the hope that something real can prosper in this twisted reality. A kiss from a lover; a cursory glance from a stranger. His gradual unravelling from freedom-fighting rebel to downtrodden victim of the state is heartbreaking to watch – executed with a performance that's explosive when it needs to be, but masterfully restrained for the most part. Conroy anchors the entire show, working in tandem with Ursula Mills’ brilliant performance as  Julia – who is entirely magnetic throughout.
 
Naturally, this tale doesn't end quietly. Indeed, it will leave you in a cold sweat – thanks in part to its dedication to abrasive lighting and sound. Whether it's a high pitched squeal that echoes through your brain, the harsh white light that'll make you squint or the spine tingling sound of a dentist's drill, this is a play that will lead you to the precipice of feeling extremely uncomfortable – in the very best way possible.
 
The timing for 1984's return to the stage couldn't be more perfect, but the fact that it's executed with fearless commitment to Orwell's dystopia while offering something new is a resolute testament to its success.