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A Clockwork Orange: A history of ultra-violence

Photo credit: Rebecca Pitt

Charlie Jones

When A Clockwork Orange burst onto the world cinema stage in 1971 it became an instant cult classic; shocking its audience with its brutal monochrome vision of a dystopian universe.  Alexandra Spencer- Jones, a young director of the Action to the Word theatre company has taken on the mammoth challenge of adapting this ultra-violent, notoriously hard-to-follow novel for the stage. The play has been showcased at the Edinburgh Fringe circuit two years running and graced The Old Market theatre in Hove with its presence for three days from the 20th of September.

The play commences with a violent standoff between ‘Little Alex’, his droogs Pete, Georgie and Dim and a rival gang; the ensuing battle orchestrated through ironically elegant dancing. You are instantly seized by this idea of juxtaposition that made the film so jarring and uncomfortable in viewing it; a ferocious and horrifying attack is performed to the soundtrack of the scissor sisters while a thick Manchurian accent slips easily into ‘Nadsat’ (a cockney rhyming slang meets Slavic Russian). While the cold war fears may seem outdated to a contemporary audience, the sense of a generation of demoralised sociopaths with their own inclusive idiolect rings truer today then it may have done when Burgess first envisioned.  A particularly poignant moment sees police officers, criminals, freedom fighters and terrorists all deemed as ‘the same’; a line that seems to sum up what has become a prominent Western  notion in the 21st century.

The soundtrack is an eclectic mix of camp synth based pop tunes and fast paced dramatic classical music (the now infamous Beethoven’s ninth symphony creating a high pitched anxiety, an audial reflection of Alex’s distorted psyche). The impact of such irony-drenched music is continues throughout, as the audience is dragged on a roller-coaster ride of camp dance routines portraying events much more sinister in nature. The homo-eroticism of this adaption modernises and subverts the the piece in its original form. It is no coincidence that Brighton was a particular city chosen for showings of this performance; some of the scenes of scantily clad men dancing in an outrageously erotic manner are easily reminiscent of the Brighton night scene itself. This reflection on the gay community in A Clockwork Orange seemed to emphasise the sexual violence through a different medium; the nature of masculinity itself is explored through the subversive and unsettling story of Alex and his menacing Droogs. On their website, Art to the Word theatre company announce: “A celebration of gorgeousness and gorgeousity… a playtime of orgiastic ultraviolence and sexuality.” And this is a promise they do not fail to keep; as the pandemonium ensues you can’t help but be struck by the beauty of the actors, the sensuality of their poised movements and the brief moments of apparent tenderness that they share.

Credit must be given to the nine members of the all-male cast who moved with fluidity and grace while managing to make every muscle tremble with animalistic energy as they hungrily ravaged their victims, inflicting violence for violence’s sake. Martin McCreadie excels as Alex, proving both an imposing and charming villain,  a ‘cheeky chappy’ and sadistic psychopath simultaneously. His sense of intellectualism, hedonism and a striking use of language make him a surprising anti-hero. I left the theatre, as I’m sure many others did, questioning my own morality, having found over the previous two hours I had been sucked into the complex character of Alex DeLarge: on surface value he is abhorrent to any person who has any sense of a moral compass and yet his charm gets him under your skin in a profound way. The poster boy of pure evil finds a face, and McCreadie has an absolutely terrifying control of his facial expressions. He effortlessly contorts his face into the looming leer that made the posters of the original film so iconic.

A blank stage in the literal sense proves to be a physical reminder of a bleak hollowness that the human race appears to be slowly shuffling towards and the importance of ‘A Clockwork’s’ message has not been lost. Art to the Word effectively enter the murky territory of human nature presented to the audience in an unapologetic and stark form. As the actors twirl, crawl and howl their way to the final, thought-provoking monologue from Alex I found myself asking: Can society change the individual? Would this change remove the individual from themselves? And does being physically unable to do a bad thing therefore make you morally a good person? Whatever the answer, these questions are left very much open by Art to the Word. This leaves us, as an audience, open to the future possibilities of ourselves and of the society in which we exist.

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