It’s Nineteen Eighty-Four like you’ve never seen it before; a new staging of George Orwell’s masterpiece that tells the epic cautionary tale in an all-singing, all-dancing production.
Newtown’s New Theatre is currently hosting the world premiere season of 1984! The Musical!. This new Australian work was written by Tom Davidson McLeod and Diana Reid, with music by Riley McCullagh.
Reid tells Theatre People that while the novel has seemed prescient ever since its first publication in 1949, that perhaps has never been more true than in recent years.
“We are entering a new decade as the climate crisis mounts; as surveillance capitalism tightens its grip with our phones collecting our data and watching us like telescreens, and as the post-truth mass media propagates doublethink via ‘alternative facts’,” Reid says. “Now is the perfect time for a reminder of Orwell’s clarion call for the triumph of individual critical thought over populism and bigotry, and of love over hate.”
Reid says the process of writing the script for 1984! The Musical! Began in late 2018. McCullagh, the composer, came on board after the first draft was written.
“The beauty of working on a totally original piece is that the rehearsal process is uniquely collaborative, and leaves its own mark on the script,” says Reid. “We encourage the actors to be playful with their characters, and several of the ad libs that were thrown around in rehearsal have made their way into the final script.”
The world premiere production of 1984! The Musical! at the New Theatre has been self-produced by its writers.
“As a totally original Australian work, without the capital of a known theatre company behind it, we are really asking audiences to make a leap of faith,” says Reid. “And we are so grateful that they have! We opened last week to four sold out shows and standing ovations. It is very encouraging as young writers to see audiences embracing new works.”
Given that the source material is Orwell’s dystopian novel, Reid thinks audiences will be surprised by the humour in the show.
“They should come expecting to laugh,” she says. “Also, expect the unexpected—burlesque numbers, tap dancing rats, fourth wall breaking—1984! The Musical! has it all!”
Following the New Theatre season, the team will rework the show into a one-hour lunchtime concert at City Recital Hall, which will play in November, as part of Kathryn Selby AM and City Recital Hall’s A Little Lunch Music series.
“Currently the show is almost twice that length, so it will essentially be a different show in its next iteration, but we’re excited to rise to the challenge,” says Reid.
Delving into why the creative team decided to adapt Nineteen Eighty-Four as a comedy, Reid says it was not to trivialise Orwell’s messages, but rather because they believe in the importance of those messages.
“As I said earlier, in the current political climate, it often feels like we are living in Nineteen Eighty-Four, and I think there is a lot of anxiety associated with that,” she explains. “We hope that by making our audiences laugh, rather than lecturing them, we will encourage them to acknowledge tough truths about the world today—truths which, if presented in a sad, monochromatic lecture style, might be too depressing to confront.”
For more details about the world premiere season of 1984! The Musical! and to purchase tickets for the remaining shows, click here.
For more details about A Little Lunch Music: 1984! The Musical! at City Recital Hall and to purchase tickets, click here.