NORTHERN BALLET 1984 Review Festival Theatre Edinburgh Thursday 31st March 2016


Nothern Ballet’s 1984 based on the classic dystopian novel by George Orwell  is simply a stunning piece of work where all the separate elements of story, choreography, dancers, music, costume,  lighting and visuals all seamlessly come together to create performance art that deserves to take its place alongside any of the great classical ballets.

Tobias Batley and Martha Leebolt are simply outstanding in the lead roles - Winston Smith, the “outer party” worker who dares to think for himself and start to keep a personal diary (forbidden by the state), and Julia, his fellow worker who begins an affair with him out of (they think) the prying eyes of “Big Brother” while at the same time confessing her growing disillusionment with the system.  Both work for the Ministry of Truth which is responsible for propaganda and “historical revisionism”.

Working with wonderful music by composer Alex Baranowski  (played live by The Northern Ballet Sinfonia) and innovative choreography by Jonathan Watkins, Tobias and Martha give us dance that is a blend of classical and modern ballet.  The love scene between the two of them is just so tastefully handled that it deserves a place amongst the great duets of ballet.  Dancing the role of Winston Smith of course means that Tobias is very much leading this story and on stage in a far stronger and more prominent role than we usually see a traditional male lead.

Great performances too from Javier Torres as the Inner Party worker and Mlindi Kulashe as the junk shop owner.

Northern Ballet are touring with a pretty large company of dancers on stage, and sometimes the company can get relegated to little more than set decoration.  Not so here, a bit like the controlling state itself in 1984, everyone here has a clear part to play in telling the bigger story, and there is just so much going on with the choreography when they are all on stage.

Impressive set and costume design are by Simon Daw, and the costumes,  although looking at first “utilitarian workers” are very reminiscent of the 1940s wartime uniforms that military personnel in RAF war-rooms would wear as they plotted the flight paths of friendly and enemy aircraft.  A very nice touch as this brings us to not only the time period of the original novel’s creation (published 1949), but the very thought processes about a post-war world under the created “Zone control” of  the victors that were instrumental in creating the novel itself.

Big Brother here is an impressively large video screen with visuals by video designer Andrzej  Goulding and these visuals here are part of the story too as we are taken through the compulsory “Hate Week” and watch historical revisionism taking place in both word and imagery.

Lighting design plays a crucial part in the telling of this story and Chris Davey has done great work here that works wonderfully with the set and becomes, when needed, part of the story.

This work is original, visually striking and thought provoking.  It not only deserves to be around for a very long time, but to me is a modern classic and it was great to get the opportunity to see this work performed right at the beginning of its 2016 tour tonight at The Festival Theatre in Edinburgh.

Traditional purists may want to disagree here, but this work for me is up there alongside any of our classic ballets, and in years to come will I hope be considered one of the “traditional classics”.


Review by Tom King


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