Adapted from George Orwell's novel. By Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij. Directed by Michael Futcher. Shake & Stir Theatre Co, The Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, April 30 and May 1, 2, 3 at 8pm, May 1 and 2 at 10.30am, May 3 at 2pm. Tickets at theq.net.au or 6285 6290.
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 ''thoughtcrime'', 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 a way you don't feel shortchanged 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.''
Co-adaptor and actor Nick Skubij echoes this, saying that given the level of detail in the book creating its world, much had to be cut away. This was done by focusing on the human element, especially Winston's journey.
He says 1984 was an obvious follow-up to the success of Animal Farm, but while there were similar themes the treatment was quite different.
''This is much more character-driven,'' he says.
''We were able to imagine it in a cool way given the technology we have today.''
There are three cameras and 12 60-inch plasma screens on stage to help create the oppressive atmosphere of constant surveillance in the story.
But, echoing Probets, he says it's the human element and the psychological depth of 1984 that have been most responsible for its enduring popularity both as a story and as a cautionary tale.