Year of the Rat

The Forge at The Court Theatre, Christchurch

19/10/2007 - 17/10/2007

Production Details

by Roy Smiles
directed by Ross Gumbley

Set by Julian Southgate

George Orwell invites Sonia Brownell to the remote Scottish island where he is working to complete his novel 1984. But three’s a crowd when lecherous publisher Cyril Connolly arrives unexpectedly.

Add some unlikely characters from Orwell’s fevered imagination and you have an inspired and entertaining journey into one of the great minds of the twentieth century.

The Forge is proud to present the world premiere of Year of the Rat, from acclaimed playwright Roy Smiles. After the great success of Ying Tong comes this poignant, intelligently written and uniquely theatrical exploration of the final years of George Orwell.

It is 1948, a time fraught with political conflict and change. With the publication of Animal Farm, George Orwell is a novelist of great renown. In self-imposed exile to escape the threat of Stalin ‘s goons on a remote Scottish island in the Inner Hebrides, Orwell yearns for something more in his isolation.

Inviting Sonia Brownell to join him as he fights his failing health to complete his masterpiece 1984, Orwell gets more company than he bargained for with the unexpected arrival of his Eton friend (and Sonia ‘s employer) the lecherous literary critic Cyril Connolly.  Add some unlikely characters from Orwell’s fevered imagination and you have an inspired and entertaining journey into one of the great minds of the twentieth century.

The Forge at The Court Theatre 20 Worcester Boulevard Christchurch
Shows Monday – Saturday 7.00pm
Bookings 03 963 0883 or Toll Free courtesy of TelstraClear on 0800 333 100 or online

John Bach
Philip Aldridge
Claire Dougan
Tom Trevella

Theatre ,

1 hr 45 mins, incl interval

The conscience of his generation, dying

Review by Faith Oxenbridge 19th Apr 2009

In The Year of The Rat at the Court Theatre in Christchurch, George Orwell is living alone on a remote Scottish isle, afraid that one man can be an island. He’s post Animal Farm, hiding from "Stalin’s goons", writing Nineteen Eighty-Four, and coughing up blood. He will soon die, in London, from TB.

He invites editor Sonia Brownwell – aka "the Euston Rd Venus" – to the island in the hope that she will fall in love with him. Hot on her well-shod heels comes Orwell’s friend, the lecher and editor Cyril Connolly, who has come to save Orwell from Sonia – and himself.  [More]
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Polished, excellent contemporary theatre

Review by Lindsay Clark 20th Oct 2007

Biographical plays are a fascinating and increasingly popular genre, probing as they do beneath the given circumstances of the famous to let us see the human heart which makes them one of us. The world premiere of this production is a brilliant example of such an opportunity, realised with theatrical flair and artistic integrity.

Although George Orwell achieved lasting fame for his classics Animal Farm and later 1984, he is remembered more for their unflinching portrayal of tainted socialism than for the warmth of any personal voice. Year of the Rat addresses that imbalance, setting out a richly detailed account of a pivotal week in Orwell’s life as he is finishing 1984, living out to some extent the disillusionment of its ‘hero’ Winston Smith.

Physically weakened by the disease which would eventually prove fatal, he is also facing his inner demons as he strives to achieve a love relationship with the woman who was to become his second wife. The writer he is blazes with conviction, or what he self – deprecatingly calls ‘pontification’. The lover is unbearably vulnerable.

The challenge of how to get inside the head of this cool, disaffected analyst is solved structurally by a series of visitors to the writer’s isolated farmhouse, on the remote Scottish isle of Jura. Some are live human characters and some are key characters or associations  from earlier writing: Boxer (‘too loyal for too long’), Napoleon ( the Stalin figure ) and significantly the Rat, Winston’s own horror, symbolising rampant self-interest and individualism. Thus the stage is enlivened by scene after scene of tense interest as the writer struggles to deal with the inertia and cynicism which have led him to the chilly isolation of the island.

Written by an actor, directed by an actor, it is unsurprising that this production  is a totally absorbing theatrical experience. Ross Gumbley draws together the formidable talents of his creative team and actors to give us a clear lead on the thinking behind the play. Humanity has to be lived. It cannot in effect be preached but nor is it the prize of mindless hedonism.

At the centre of the action, John Bach is the essence of Orwell. The intellect, physical features and emotional life of the character are so truthfully presented that there is a sense of voyeurism about the experience of watching his encounters. Here is a fine actor, engaged fully by a testing script and delivering a flawless performance.

Equally impressive is the finely tuned work of Philip Aldridge, better known in Christchurch for his day job as CEO of The Court. In wondrous contrast to the shabby, tweedy Orwell, his Cyril Connolly exudes urbanity and sophistication, a rubicund Wildean figure whose decadent wit is a delight in itself.

Claire Dougan playing Sonia Brownell ( seen as Julia from 1984 by Orwell) is crisp and intelligent in every move and Tom Trevella contributes very satisfying animal presences with a physical intensity which successfully marks these out as creatures of Orwell’s mind.

Julian Southgate’s darkly timbered set – complete with shell strewn, crunchy path from the foyer, dusty mantel and meagre fire – is complemented by a fine lighting design from Josh Major. Together they draw us in to the moods of the play with confident authority.

This is a production not to be missed by anyone interested in polished, excellent contemporary theatre.


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