St. Albert Catholic High Theatre Arts
March 7 and 8 at noon and 7 p.m.
5 St. Anne Street
Tickets: Adults $20, students $15 or a five-pack $80 Call 780-459-7781 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org
1984, the 2013 Broadway play based on George Orwell’s 1984 dystopian novel, is guaranteed to make audiences feel nervous and uncomfortable.
In fact, during some of the original Broadway and London productions, attendees fainted, threw up or screamed at the actors.
Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan, who adapted the play, refused to tone down Orwell’s prophecies about a totalitarian regime led by Big Brother that erases the past and people to fit its agenda.
Grabbing this bleak story head on, they created a gut-wrenching, visceral experience, particularly in the graphic torture scenes. Noting this, it takes a lot of intestinal fortitude for a school to mount this type of production.
However, St. Albert Catholic High School director Debbie Dyer has never taken the easy route. Passionate about history and the lessons it can teach (if we listen), Dyer sees frightening parallels in our current social-political climate.
“This is the reality we face with a Donald Trump government. There is as much double-think as 1984 in the way he twists things into fake news. Fake truths are legitimized through the perpetuation of lies,” said the outspoken Dyer who is clearly passionate about this cause.
“This is prevalent, not just in North America but throughout the world,” she continues pointing fingers at Syria’s Assad and Russia’s Putin for their ongoing destabilizing strategies.
“We have become complacent. This play is important because it makes people realize what they will and will not stand for.”
Raising the alarm, the St. Albert Catholic High Theatre Arts program mounts 1984 on March 7 and 8 at Arden Theatre.
Icke and Macmillan set the play in 2050. They adapt Orwell’s appendix on the Principles of Newspeak and turn it into Winston Smith’s account of the Party and its attempts to control thought.
The new 1984 resurrects Winston’s defiance of Big Brother, his love for a fellow protester, Julia, and the eventual state-promoted torture. During one shocking scene, as Winston is tortured, he looks straight at the audience and asks why they are so complicit and complacent, said Dyer.
Grade 12 student Ben Kuchera plays the dramatic role of Winston, an employee at the Ministry of Truth where he is charged with re-writing history.
“Winston is a character that seems to disconnect. He’s a construct of conformity, but he is emotional and complex inside. When he meets Julia, we see his humanity. Ben can switch from being analytical to emotional with belief and integrity.”
Another Grade 12 student, Theresa Nguyen, is Julia, a woman who sees the darkness in society and rebels in small ways.
“Julia has to be extremely sensual and then focused and rigid, and Theresa can switch from the sensual to pragmatic without being choppy.”
In one of the play’s most difficult roles, Grade 11 student Ethan Kidney plays O’Brien, a member of the inner party who is Winston’s boss and eventual torturer.
“Ethan has the voice of authority, but O’Brien also needs Winston to trust him and he can be endearing.”
Straying slightly from the Icke-Macmillan formula, Dyer made a major character change. Charrington, the antique dealer who Winston and Julia trust, was originally male. Instead the SACH’s production has Mrs. Charrington (Mila Whiting).
“This older woman creates a beautiful connection for Winston. He hearkens back to the nostalgic days before his mother and sister were taken away, and Mila creates that element of trust.”
More than anything, Dyer and her 16 young actors want to build awareness.
“One of the things our world needs is less complacency and more action.”