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April 27, 2009 | by  | in Theatre |
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Year of the Rat

The problem with good theatre—as opposed to great theatre—is that there really isn’t much to say about it. There is nothing wrong by any real means with Year of the Rat. But, at the same time, there is very little exceptional or noteworthy about it. I would stop short of calling it workman-like or tepid, but not that short.

Year of the Rat is the story of filthy socialist and author provocateur George Orwell (Jason Whyte) writing 1984 in a self-imposed exile on the island Jura in the inner Hebrides, slowly dying of tuberculosis in 1948. He is joined by the current object of his affection, Sonia Brownell (Jessica Robinson) and later, womanising magazine editor Cyril Connolly (Jason Ward Kennedy). In between drinking, coughing and writing, Orwell enjoys the odd hallucination. Boxer the horse and Napoleon the pig, both from Animal Farm and the rat from 1984—all played by Simon Vincent—pop into Orwell’s subconscious, advising him on the events. The plot’s focus is much more romantic than literary, concerning itself much more with the twisted non-love triangle that only ever at best half-forms between the three leads than Orwell’s novelistic urges.

Roy Smiles’ script is immaculately well structured and paced, breezing easily through the 105 minutes running time. The characters are well formed if slightly boring. Also, there are several distracting issues with the slightly male representation of the sole female character Sonia, which veer towards the errant realms of the ‘Amazing Woman’ or ‘Pixie Girlfriend’. The ending is also somewhat oblique and left me wondering if I had somehow unknowingly slept through something. I hadn’t. I checked.

The performances are all very watchable, with Whyte’s delicate Orwell perfectly pitched against Kennedy’s delectably cartoonish Cyril. Jessica Robinson struggles slightly with her oddly written character, but that is much more of a judgement against the text than her skills. Simon Vincent gives a worthwhile if somewhat empty series of performances as the animals within Orwell’s brain.

The direction by Jane Waddell compliments the quick witted script and keeps it all gliding along, never letting the show dip in energy. John Hodgkins’ set along with Ulli Briese’s lighting create an intricate and detailed playing space, while Gillie Coxill’s costumes do a great job of evoking the period.

Year of the Rat is no great failure, but it is no great success either. It is simply okay. Which is fine, I guess. And, I mean, if this is the median level for the quality for theatre in Wellington, we are in a good good place.

Written by Roy Smiles
Directed by Jane Waddell
With Jason Whyte, Jessica Robinson,
Jason Ward Kennedy and Simon Vincent
At Circa Two, 18 April–16 May

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About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

Comments (2)

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  1. Uther Dean says:

    Quick Correction – The Rat in the play was from ‘Animal Farm’ like the others not ‘1984’ as I state. Sorry guys.

  2. roy smiles says:

    Actually the rat was from NINETEEN EIGHTY FOUR. I’ve never had a play of mine called ‘okay’ before. I think it’s what we call in England: ‘damned by faint praise..’ Just have to kill myself by throwing myself under my own typewriter… Roy Smiles

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