Whilst it is perhaps not the most obvious choice for a new ballet, George Orwell’s nightmare vision of a dystopian future, 1984, is brought to life by Northern Ballet.

Winston Smith, a worker at the Ministry of Truth, dreams of rebellion against the omnipresent Big Brother; whilst falling in love with his co-worker, Julia; both of which are strictly forbidden. But betrayal is never far away and neither are the Thought Police, who use whatever means are necessary to ensure that the population stay in line.

The production as a whole provides a satisfying visual representation of the conflict between oppression and idealism. Jonathan Watkins’ choreography presents you with the harsh, angular and uniform movement of the masses when the characters are under the watchful eye of Big Brother, but the scenes between Winston and Julia as they escape the gaze of the cameras and dare to dream are flowing, gentle and delicate. Likewise, the rigid costumes of the co-workers in the Ministry of Truth are faded blues, straight cut and close fitting; whereas the costumes of The Proles (the citizens who are not monitored by Big Brother) are a dreamy, flowing mass of hues of orange and reds.

 

The piece has an overarching feel of industrialisation, and the uniformity of movement by the workers, the jerky robotic movements and the emotionless faces accompanies the pulsing score, which pounds relentlessly, like the noise of a machine. Sweeping strings, the thud of the drums and the boisterous brass section combine to provide an emotive score. This, coupled with frequently reprised pieces of movement and choreography and a make-up design which provides the dancers with a plastic sheen reinforces the feel of the mechanical routine of life and, more particularly, the dehumanisation of the individual.

There is a real skill on display during this production, not just through the talent on stage and in the orchestra, but in the way in which the bleakness and darkness of the novel comes through, but never overpowers the production to make it feel heavy or downbeat. The set ensures that Big Brother is, quite literally, watching over proceedings and there is a clever use of monitors and projection which reinforces the oppressive feel. The performances were universally well undertaken and the scenes switched between the brutal to the tender with ease.

If there were to be any criticism of the piece, it would be that some of the early scene setting in the first act may have been on the cusp of being slightly overlong and superfluous, and that at times the choreography of the numerous street protests became slightly repetitive. However, these are small criticisms in a show which thundered towards its conclusion and where the final scenes in Room 101 were harrowing and visually striking, causing you to leave the theatre feeling that 1984 is a bold and brave production which works far better than it should have.

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Northern Ballet’s 1984 is currently at Sheffield Lyceum Theatre until Saturday 24th October 2015. For tickets visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk . 1984 recommences its tour in March 2016, visiting Edinburgh, Milton Keynes, Southampton and London Sadlers Wells. Northern Ballet will also be performing Wuthering heights, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake at various venues around the country until April 2016. Visit www.northernballet.com for details.

 

Reviewed by Paul Szabo | @IAmScubamonkey

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