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Preview: 1984 by The Young Company + An Interview with Director Daniel Jenkins

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Following two years of practical training in all aspects of theatre, Singapore Repertory Theatre’s The Young Company are set to graduate this August, with a production of 1984 as their graduation show.

With a script by Michael Gene Sullivan, based on the iconic novel by George Orwell, 1984 is a tale that brings us the story of Winston Smith, a cog in the giant, dystopian machine state of Oceania. Physically and mentally under the omnipresent eye of Big Brother, Winston has been caught struggling for scraps of love and freedom in a world awash with distrust and violence. As he attempts to rebel in his own small way, meeting supposed friends and comrades that ally with him along the way, it’s not long before tragedy strikes, and he is caught and  forced to confess his Thoughtcrimes before an unseen inquisitor, and the audience — which acts as a silent witness to his torture.

Says director Daniel Jenkins: “For a group like The Young Company, I like choosing scripts that involve a large ensemble, where each cast member still has a reasonable part to play they can shine in. Ideally, the show should also be able to draw in an audience – it helps if schools have an interest in it, so that’s why we’ve done things like Lord of the Flies or Caucasian Chalk Circle.” 

On why he chose this script in particular, Jenkins explains: “1984 has been a play I’ve been wanting to do for ages. I’ve been in emails back and forth for a number of years now for rights, and finally, this seemed like a particularly good year to do it, especially given our current political climate. It’s not the same script as the one from last year’s SIFA, and there’s actually a different emphasis on this one, where we’re focusing more on the spread of information and how much we can trust what we receive. We’re all caught up in our own echo chambers on social media, and it can be hard to see the big picture sometimes, given all these biases. In the case of Orwell, it’s very much linked to this idea of how information can be doctored and we shouldn’t trust everything we see, and we’re also reminded of Trump’s speeches. How then can we use these suspicious pieces of information, and make the right choices?”

“Not to mention,” he adds. “Thoughtcrime seems like such a distant thing, but in fact, we’re already under constant surveillance anyway. I was reading an article the other day about how the tech companies in China are even trying to enhance the facial recognition software and work on programmes that can basically read our emotions, so reading our thoughts might not be too far off. It’s a really frightening reality we live in.”

On the young cast who’ll be performing in 1984, Daniel says: “We have a total of 15 cast members, 9 of whom are graduating this year, and 6 of whom are from the next batch. It’s great exposure for those 6 especially since they’ll be getting a taste of what’s coming up for them next year. Compared to some of the other companies, we have quite a range of ages in our ensemble, with the youngest being 16 and the oldest being 25 in this batch. Quite a few of them have just graduated from university, and have a range of experience levels in theatre. Some of them are from more well-to-do backgrounds, others have never seen a show in their life, and most of them aren’t sure if theatre is what they want to do full-time yet.”

“But what the Young Company offers then is this chance to be around people who will support them in their passions and understand it, a chance to just discover themselves and what they really do want to do,” Daniel explains. “There’s so much exposure to different productions, and a chance to work with artists like Steven Dexter (Forbidden Cityor Guy Holland, and maybe even Lea Salonga if her schedule permits when Sweeney Todd arrives. Of course, the emphasis is mostly on acting and performance, but some of our graduates have gone on to do stage management or tech, and really, this whole programme acts as a taster and introduction to the world of theatre before deciding if they want to hone those skills further and go into further education.”

“As the most established youth theatre company around, producing theatre for youth, by youth, it certainly helps that we have the KC Arts Centre as a permanent venue for our actors to perform up on a proper stage, and its great that being attached to SRT, they also get a chance to attend rehearsals and shows and get so much exposure without being isolated in their own world,” Daniel adds. “We do have limited time, given that we meet only 3 hours a week, but I’ve worked out a good programme that will equip them with the skills an actor needs if they do want to continue on with it in future. These skills in confidence, in imagination and communication and having such camaraderie, they’re all such transferrable skills that any company looks for, regardless if they go into acting full time or not.”

“But honestly,” Daniel concludes. “The most important thing is that they’re constantly surrounded by people with similar passions, it’s such an enabling environment for all of them. They never feel judged, they can be open and honest with each other, and it’s really all about getting out there, trying and performing, and learning if this is what they want to do or not.”

For now though, come witness this ferocious and provocative adaptation of one of the most prescient works of literature of the last century, and see what the Young Company 2019 Graduates have learnt on their journey towards becoming the theatremakers of tomorrow.

1984 plays at the KC Arts Centre from 22nd to 24th August 2019. Tickets available from SRT

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