An Orwellian Comedy: What the World Needs Right Now
By Noah Vaz & Haydn Hickson
1984! The Musical is the product of the creative genius of law students (and Law Revue directorial alumni), Tom Davidson-McLeod, Floyd Alexander-Hunt and Diana Reid. With that context, this iteration of Orwell’s 1949 classic makes complete sense. Its beauty is in the clever nexus of biting political satire and slapstick, cough-inducing humour. The writers’ themselves note that ‘With the coinciding of the rise of populism, alternative facts, and Orwell’s work being in the public domain, there has never been a more opportune time for a reimagining of that classic text.’
This SUDS production was its first foray onto the stage, and it slapped. Boy, did it slap hard. With Diana Reid and Tom Davidson McLeod (who also stars as Syme) at its helm, the show’s potential was on full display.
The show parodies Orwell’s grim work with flashy and trashy musical numbers — Legally Blonde meets Book of Mormon, if you will. Naturally, Floyd Alexander-Hunt’s comedic musical style, and Riley McCullagh’s excellence in composition and arrangement shine bright in this budget production. The opening and closing number, ‘The Party Never Ends’, are suitable bookends to a powerful work, with Tom Davidson McLeod’s classic witty rhymes. The power of the music really hits you hard when you’re about 5 songs in and you’re wishing the soundtrack was available on Apple Music for your bus ride home.
Reid’s artistic vision shone through with the cast’s exuberance and intense characterisation. Nonetheless, as Diana Reid stans, we thoroughly missed her presence on stage a great deal.
At its first performance though, the show did lag in parts. Some scenes dragged on, some songs had much fewer laughs than others. Its choreography and staging was at times tiresome, and the small Cellar Theatre stage limited the potential of some of the show’s bigger numbers. In a way, we could draw parallels between this show and Britney Spears’ first album, “...Baby One More Time” — heralding a few solid bangers and characters; a few flat parts; but indicative of overwhelming grammy-winning potential.
Squeezed into the cellar theatre, the space was less a set and more of a canvas. That’s to say the show’s props were minimalist, in having a few set billboards, some couches and a desk. The book’s dystopian concept, rife with Telescreens, 2-minute hate and Room 101, was also manifest in the odd CCTV camera, a torture button and some ominous lighting. The costuming, constructed from what seemed like a few tradie donations to vinnies, was clever, and kudos must be given to Iso McDonald for rounding up so many pairs of overalls.
Harry Charlesworth (Winston) carried the show with a vivacity and skill of a young Hayden Tonazzi. I’ve never seen anyone so pleased to be on stage, except maybe his antagonist, Josh Macqueen (O’Brien). However their enjoyment on stage was not off-putting — their enthusiasm and talent were infectious, and the audience seemed to enjoy the show as much as they did. Though some notes fell flat, and some vibrato cut short, their performances were on the whole, captivating.
Though, the star of the show was Anna Della Marta (Julia) . Props must be given to her finesse and unparalleled comedic timing. Her supple soprano and intense vibrato, led to many audience gasps — how did this star meant for broadway end up in the Cellar Theatre? The combination of her character’s deadpan humour, emotional depth, and prolific sarcasm would be difficult for any actress, but Della Marta kills it on stage.
Highlights also include the bumkinish Jock Price (Mr Parsons) and frighteningly awkward Christie Aucamp (Mrs Parsons), whose characters consistently provide a comedic backdrop to the show’s Orwellian twists and turns. A similar commendation can be given to Zoe Clarke (Katherine), for her uncomfortable duet “Sex is for Reproduction”. Tom Davidson McLeod had the audience in stitches at the very sight of his weird lip movements, and excessively rolled ‘Rs’.
Sasha Meaney (Charrington) is once again fire, turning Orwell’s surreptitious spy into an ogling, audacious idiot — with pipes and a stage presence to match. Both Dani Stephenson and Sophie Roderick (Child 1 & 2) also shone as happy, evil children, and most interestingly as tap-dancing rats.
All-in-all, this show was a smash hit. Our advice? Get down to the Cellar Theatre while you still can, because we have a feeling that the next chance you’ll have to see this won’t be costing you $5.