The easy way for an amateur theatre group to go is to put on a nice comedy. Preferably one that you’ve already heard of. “Allo, Allo,” I’m told, is a sure-fire bet around the amateur traps at the moment.
It’s pleasing then to see our local thespians tackling something more serious. Especially when this brave new direction is initiated by its juvenile arm, the Warrandyte Youth Theatre, and all the more satisfying to see it attracting such strong audiences.
Orwell’s 1984, of course, is an important work, still chillingly relevant, which is why it is remains firmly on the school syllabus.
Although penned in 1949, and set in a far-flung future we have long since overtaken, we don’t have to look far abroad to see thriving examples of institutionalised hatred, rigid party control, brainwashing, citizen spies, re-education programs and all the insidious manifestations of totalitarianism so vividly imagined here. The debasement of language into shallow slogans and soundbites has become de rigueur even within our own political system – and don’t get me started on email and Twitter-speak. OMG!
So the storyline was immediately compelling and guaranteed to provide that much-vaunted ‘something to think about long after the final curtain’. It unfolded
smoothly under sure-footed direction from Adrian Rice and crisply effective staging as party apparatchiks pivoted a sequence of stark backdrops into position like flipping through the pages of the book itself.
Our doomed innocent, Winston Smith, was excellently portrayed by Matthew Freeman whose passion and control provided a convincing journey from subversive to submissive. Nicola De Rosbo-Davies was equally strong as the seductively rebellious Julia, playing the part with innocence and restraint. Nick Vanderhaar in the demanding role of O’Brien managed to suck the audience in as effectively as he did the young couple until unleashing his true colours with frightening force. Matt Wallace as Syme, Lydia Phelan as Parsons, Georgina Topp as the Landlady, Emma Withoff and Renata Levin-Buckland in multiple roles and Jaz Harwood as the fanatical 14-year-old played their roles for the team with good effect.
I was also impressed to hear that the evocative background score was an original effort from the multi-talented Matt Wallace.
Warrandyte’s Youth Theatre is one of the most exciting theatrical developments we have seen in recent years and we can only hope the momentum established can be maintained. It’s a difficult challenge as the first wave of exceptional talent we enjoyed in the first four years is already outgrowing the youth label. But if 1984 is any indication, the next crop of young performers is well up to the task.
Next up for the company is Speaking in Tongues on which the highly-acclaimed movie Lantana was based. It opens on 18 October.
PHOTOS: STEPHEN REYNOLDS