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1984
Published on Tuesday, 21 August 2012
5

5 stars

Zoo (venue website)
Theatre
3-7, 9-14, 16-18, 20-21, 23-27 Aug, 6:40pm-8:10pm
Reviewed by Ellen Macpherson

 Recommended for age 14+ only.

The stinking-hot and rather pungent venue at Zoo seemed an entirely appropriate setting for this dramatic interpretation of Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, 1984. Quite frankly, the studio smelled horrendously of sweat and smoke, and I was almost deeply regretting sitting in the front row in close proximity to the actors’ nearly naked bodies. Very soon however, I was completely immersed in EmpathEyes’ impressive production.

I generally dislike this particular space – purely because it has four gigantic poles surrounding the stage area, so the chances are you’ll have your view obscured for some of the production. But the dynamism and scale of this play encompasses the entire room, making that pesky pole in front of my face almost entirely irrelevant. This is a complete production: video projection, live orchestra and stage acting, all wrapped into one.

It’s an impressive spectacle and extremely well tied together; in fact, it’s probably the only production I’ve seen this Fringe where the bells and whistles have enhanced the experience, rather than distracting from it. Too often modern interpretations of classic texts are accompanied by an intrusive and clichéd techno soundtrack, so EmpathEyes’ choice to employ a live orchestra was particularly refreshing and incredibly enjoyable.

All the same, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest seeing this production if you’re a first-timer to the original story. Understandably, due to a ninety-minute time constraint (actually on the longer end of the spectrum for the Fringe), the play gets dives straight into the nitty-gritty. That was an excellent thing from my perspective, but I think it probably assumes a lot of audience knowledge. For instance, the name Oceania isn’t noticeably mentioned until over halfway through the production.

Having said that, the writers have done a remarkable job with the pacing of the script, with the right amount of time dedicated to building the characters themselves. Winston isn’t the most endearing of fictional figures, but Theo Gordon does a spectacular job in taking him to the stage. Yet interestingly, it was Kate Hesketh that captured most of my attention as Julia; while I found her thoroughly infuriating in Orwell’s original text, I had a lot more respect and sympathy for her character in this stage version. She was bold, sexy and smart – an excellent thing considering the significant amount of the production was based on Winston and Julia’s love story.

The only small criticism I have involves the placement of the production in modern-day London. It seemed rather irrelevant and muddled. While any extension of it would risk crossing the line into clichéd, the barely-there references were largely unnecessary; for much of the production I was under the impression that we could have been watching a story taking place anywhere in the world.

But that’s a minor quibble. EmpathEyes have given us a polished show that is visually arresting, physically impressive and deeply disturbing – exactly what a stage production of 1984 should be. For £8, you won’t find a more well-rounded production this Fringe. You’ll be hearing whispers and seeing that famous watchful eye in your sleep. But make sure you get there nice and early, so you don’t end up in a seat with a prime view of a big grey pole!

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These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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