Friday, October 22, 2010

"A Clockwork Orange" - October 2010

Kubrick's movie I can take or leave, but I'm fascinated by Anthony Burgess' novel. It's always resonated with me and ignites my own internal struggle between my liberal and paternalistic tendencies. In the end, my soft hearted libertarian side always wins out and I find myself sympathising with Alex. But not this time.

It's an unfortunate legacy of the film that any stage production of "A Clockwork Orange" will always have to compete with its iconic style. Jeremy Raison's production for the Citizens smartly avoids appropriating it, but can't escape the expectation of having to come up with something of their own that is equally striking. And while the look and feel of the production captivates the audience, I fear it may be at the expense of the message.

Although we're told (frequently) that in conditioning young Alex against violence the state have taken away an integral part of his humanity, and despite the well portrayed post-treatment physical response to violence, I found it very difficult to view Alex as a victim. For that I needed to see a broken man, someone who realised what he had lost - and not just angry at the unintended removal of his ability to enjoy music. And I just never got that - even at his lowest point Alex still had a glint of mischief in his eye and a barely concealed gallusness, leaving me contemplating that perhaps his punishment hadn't been harsh enough.

In terms of entertainment, the production really can't be faulted. The dance-like portrayal of the ultraviolence is brilliantly conceived and executed; the implementation of the Ludovico technique is cleverly understated; and the joyride into the country is a wonderful piece of theatre in itself. Burgess invented a teenage language 'nadsat' for the novel and this always has the potential to be problematic, and while the production does its best to quickly give context to the slang, I'm unsure quite how easily it would be picked up by someone encountering it for the first time.

Jay Taylor gives Alex a real presence and the charisma to make the character a believable de facto leader of his gang, but also endows him with the air of superiority that proves his downfall. Raison has brought together an excellent ensemble cast who clearly relish their multiple roles - with Derek Barr, Jonathan Dunn and Shaun Mason in particular transforming almost unrecognisably from Alex's droogs to the Minister, the Warder and the Chaplin amongst others . It was also pleasing to see invaluable experience being given to several Citizens Community Company performers; although having seen in the past what they are capable of, they did feel somewhat underused.

As a lover of the novel, I can't help but feel that it's unfortunate that once more audiences will leave a production of "A Clockwork Orange" talking about its style and energy rather than the issues it raises. But those looking for a slick, vibrant and entertaining production won't be disappointed - the Citizens have really come up with the goods.

A Clockwork Orange runs at the Citizens until Saturday 6th November
Image by Tim Morozzo used with permission