A Clockwork Orange – Everyman Theatre Review

Anthony Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange: A play with Music more than twenty years after he first published his novella with the intention to ‘stem the flow of amateur adaptations’ to provide an ‘actable version which has auctorial authority’. The songs Burgess wrote incorporated Beethoven with the protagonist’s conflicted nature, as if they were composed by Alex as he hacks and slashes his way through ‘a bit of the old ultraviolence’. Though the songs match the tone of the play, other scenes of Burgess’ writing delve into romanticism, most notably the ending, which fits inharmoniously with the play’s darker tone. Nick Bagnall and his cast and crew manage to pull these conflicting notions within the play’s text into a successful and enjoyable spectacle helped by Molly Lacey Davies and Jocelyn Meall’s stage design.

From the outset, Alex (George Caple) and his three droogs create an intimidating atmosphere that permeates the stage. Their demeanour is reinforced as they coolly drop their milk+ just off stage as the play begins, to strengthen that they can enter your space. The opening sequences show Alex’s deranged nature as he commits acts of escalating violence, culminating in the robbery of an old woman who holds a bust of Alex’s beloved Beethoven. Alex’s droogs betray him again, leaving him to the police; wearing pig masks and oinking as they talk and jeer. The ‘pigs’ start the plays un-nuanced approached to its themes which are at best are comical prison warden muppets, and at worst unneeded references to Jimmy Saville. During these opening scenes, Alex’s gang seamlessly move around the stage, making proper use of the ladders and trap doors that clearly show the changing environment as they venture from one criminal act to another. Besides the stage, the ultraviolet light sets the film within its near-distant future perspective, separating the actions of the gang from that of the spectator’s world.

Once in prison, Alex is subjected to the rigours of inherent corruption, personified by the prison warden as a puppet in the hands of the politicians. Though Burges wrote this over thirty years ago, his critic of the intricacies of the judicial and political systems still feel fitting. After the death of a blatant Jimmy Saville-like inmate, Alex is betrayed by his peers and finds his only salvation in the experimental Ludovico treatment. The Ludovico scene was, a personal highlight in the play. Alex is raised above the audience, and restrained in a cross-like pose, enduring mental torture as his mind is altered. Kudos as well for George Caple who stayed on the pedestal for the entire intermission.

Once cured, Alex is released back into society only to have his acts, ever so poetically, repeated on him from the first sequences, finally climaxing in his capture by the writer he tormented. From this point, the story plays out in pretty much the same way as Stanley Kubrick’s adaption, until the very end. It is worth noting that Nick Bagnall and his cast and crew separated themselves almost entirely from the film, creating a unique style. Peter Mitchell’s multi-talented distinct composition strikes chords with Jonny Greenwood’s score from There will be Blood while Kay Hughes’ lights create a haze over the entire stage and audience.

Despite the exceptional performances, the ending felt inconsistent with the rest of the play as Alex having found solace in himself gets a girlfriend and gives up all acts of violence . This is not the production’s fault, as the ending of A Clockwork Orange was contested from the beginning; Burges’ American publishers had this last chapter omitted from their publication in 1962, which coincidently is the one Stanley Kubrick based his film off – still though, A Clockwork Orange: A Play with Music is an exciting reinvention of a classic story.

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