Friday, 17 February 2017

Review A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange
by Anthony Burgess

The Young Ones

Surely we are now living firmly in a post-Clockwork Orange age? We're certainly now living in the post-Brexit (a made-up word which could have come from the pen of A Clockwork Orange author Anthony Burgess - or one of Brugess's biggest influences, James Joyce). Beethoven and Schiller's Ode To Joy so prominent in Burgess's 1962 novel and the later film adaptation has taken on another resonance.

Heavens, Salford is even the home of the BBC.

The dystopian tale of 15-year old Alex and his fall from gang leader to crippled patient and political pawn is best known through the infamous Stanley Kubrick movie.  Theatre company Action To The Word currently returns to London with its staging of A Clockwork Orange, using Burgess's own 1987 playscript. First seen eight years' ago on the London Fringe at the Camden Galleries, it became a hit at the Edinburgh Festival before a tour abroad.

We have to say we feel that A Clockwork Orange, the satiric novel and movie, has aged better than Action To The Word's production. This stage version works best when the narrative is clear, with unambiguous and thought-provoking reversals such as when former gang members become the forces of vengeful law and order.  

Nevertheless, this all-male production wears rather wearyingly the influences of its own time, especially an over stylized choreography which makes it somewhat a ballet mécanique going against the grain of Burgess's novel and play.

It also feels like a piece which relies rather heavily on A Clockwork Orange's reputation preceding it. The doubling and tripling up of roles, all clad in geometric black and white with dashes of orange, is definitely confusing for a newcomer to the story.The lack of women and caricatural drag makes it more akin to a Jean Genet piece than  the Burgess work which despite the fantastical element was still rooted in many ways in National Servicethe Angry Young Men set of writers and the Cold War.

For there are obvious echoes of Chinese and Soviet psychiatric brainwashing and social experimentation in the medical "cure" for criminal behaviour, as well as some of the weird psychiatric thinking which did exist in Britain and the USA.  But there's also a hook in post-war literature commonly thought of as grittily realistic such as the borstal-set The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner.

So much of Burgess's original grittiness, wit and the brutality is lost as the production, directed by Alexandra Spencer-Jones, becomes a homoerotic ballet of muscular torsos.

Still, anti-hero Alex (Jonno Davies) is more convincing as he weakens in the second half of the one-act 90 minute piece. Simon Cotton's writer F Alexander (whose novel is of course called A Clockwork Orange) and Dr Brodsky also stood out for us.

However overall this production, in the age of internet cut-and-paste and institutionalised knee jerk reactions, when we now can look back at Top Of The Pops and peroxide-blond Jimmy Savile repeats with a knowledge of brutal abuse, feels a bit of a mechanical clockwork orange in itself. An amber light for a production which has the outer skin of a juicy fruit but  has been "cured" on the inside, preserved but dried out.

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