Orwell’s Ministry of Love, Miniluv, was a place of torture and brainwashing. It seems Miniclear is located at Monash University.
Once I plonked down in rural Spain under the 30 degree sun in total exhaustion. It had been four hours since I’d seen another human, and within five minutes a rheumy peasant woman popped out of nowhere with a KitKat, handed it to me, and stormed off.
If you’re lucky, you might have a handful of these experiences – events that are just so bizarre that you constantly think “what the hell…” and wonder if anyone else saw the moment.
Recently, the performance of Monash University’s “The Ministry”, as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, had me in this state of mind for at least 90 minutes, and I was hoping a KitKat would suddenly appear so it would all make sense.
I had arrived just in time to start the performance, without much idea of what was going on. Grouped with 25 others, we were lead on a bizarre campus tour through Monash Clayton to a particular building just off Rainforest walk. This multi-level building was sterile and versatile with board rooms, echoing studios and winding staircases. The whole production was an interpretation of George Orwell’s 1984, and, as the audience, we were dressed and treated as citizens of ‘The Ministry’. The occasional harried admin worker shooting dirty glances as he huffed past unfortunately shattered this illusion.
Usually dramatic performances such as this have a key point – these perceived ‘edgy’ artistic comments on a particular social or political issue that’s supposed to leave the audience reflecting and wondering. Judging by the look on the faces of everyone else, the ‘wondering’ seemed to be a collective state of mind. If you are not familiar with Orwell’s novel, this entire show would make absolutely no sense. Student actors in suits with televisions on their heads, girls giggling over lipstick in a converted red-light toilet on Level 4 and a journal under the glare of a stuffed fox that you are ordered to write in. With a constant “OBEY THE MINISTRY” voice over to add to the whole… experience. There was a moment I decided to just give up go with it, and accept the weirdness of it all. As a result, it was rare experience of being involved in action that is, for once, completely out of my control, literally. Tapped on and instructed, roared at and marshaled, videoed and stared at, it was all a bit bewildering.
Director Anna Nalpantidis said that this is the overriding purpose – for each audience member to make of it what they will, and to provide a different experience for all participants. It was up to us to figure out an interpretation, trapped within our own dystopian Ministry experience.
The most impressive aspect of the whole production was the audience organisation by the actors. Without words, only stony faces and erratic arm movements, we were clearly directed between the levels of the building, and successfully captivated by real-time interrogations of one unlucky participant, oblivious to the construction of the show as it was built to unfold as a continuous roll of action.
It was a strange evening out and it’s an experience that will stay for me for quite some time. Tickets for The Ministry have been sold out for the festival but click here if you want to learn more about this production.