Review: 1984

Northern Ballet
Festival Theatre Edinburgh, Until April 2nd 2016
5 Stars (5 / 5)

Northern Ballet Despairs and Delights with their retelling of Orwell’s classic warning against a totalitarian future.

Winston Smith, another hard working cog in Big Brother’s machine, is freed by beautiful antiques and the love of a good woman. 1984 pirouettes onto the stage in choreographer Jonathan Watkins’s outstanding contemporary production.

This is a gripping, beautiful and breath-taking performance. From the exceptional use of minimalist set design; to Northern Ballet Sinfonia playing Alex Baronowski’s captivating score to perfection- the audience is moved seamlessly from page to chapter of Owell’s classic novel.

Scenes which at first glance may seem busy or repetitive, are filled with clever choreography- every move conveys a new emotion or mental state. The drama is heightened by brilliant lighting and an incredibly effective use of digital screens. Big Brother is an imposing and intimidating presence in all the right ways.

As the ultimate contrast to a harsh, robotic society, or the drunken masses portrayed expertly by the rest of the cast; Giuliano Contadini (Winston) and Dreda Blow (Julia) have a chemistry together that is wonderful to behold. A night of carnal pleasure takes place in the woods – portrayed against a pair of large, bare trees; in such a delicate, passionate and sensual way- everything is communicated so perfectly in each embrace and lift. A true joy to watch.

The use of colour in this production is wonderful. Goosebumps abound when a cold blast of icy blue cuts through the opening scene and transforms the stage from an intimate antique shop to a corporate mechanical world. Red is the colour of rebellion against the machine, hinting at each characters motives- the bar scene unfolds in a wash of warm orange as the Proles drink their troubles away- ; when they are in hiding, Julia’s pink dress hints that they are getting closer to freedom. Varying shades and splashes of red are used to show a distancing from the blue of ‘The Party’. The screens work with colour too, yellow shifts to purple as the masses are told who to hate next, it is extremely effective.

Room 101 is as horrifying as it should be. Winston and the audience are thrown into an overwhelming and disturbing chaos. Images of horror and strange symbols flash up on the screen, the score builds and everyone watches his descent into conformity. The building and breaking of tension is wonderful, the screams are so well played you can almost hear them in those final scenes, so gripping that it can’t be the end… But it is, and the viewer realises that every muscle in their body has been clenched.

You do not have to have read 1984 to be completely enthralled, entertained and even emotionally drained by this fantastic performance. Shadows fill the stage; splashes of colour pose as clues for the audience throughout and you will be stunned at how quickly the time flies. Northern Ballet’s 1984 is intelligent and stimulating storytelling of the highest quality.