For many, the name A Clockwork Orange is synonymous with controversy – Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ novel met fierce criticism for its portrayals of brutal violence and sex, and was withdrawn for a time after accusations of inspiring copycat crimes. This production at Lace Market Theatre uses the script and music written by Burgess after the film was released, and despite the novel being originally published in 1962, it feels full of contemporary relevance.
The narrative centres on Alex, a sharp but disaffected and violent teenager who leads his “droogs” in their vicious and mindless violence against the world and people around them. A power struggle within the gang leads his friends to betray him, and in prison he is singled out as the first subject for a pioneering new therapy which claims to cure criminality. The Pavlovian Ludovico Technique leaves him sickened by the thought of violence, but also by the one thing that brought him true pleasure – the music of Beethoven. As the consequences of his treatment play out, the drama takes a more satirical turn as the government, police, church and scientific community all come under attack.
Jacob Conboy is excellent as Alex, finding the nuanced layers that make up this complex character – one moment Machiavellian and brutally violent, the next vulnerable, or expressing intelligent insight into the root cause of his behaviour: “Since the church nor the state teaches us to create we use this energy to destroy”. He is supported by some strong ensemble members playing the varied characters Alex encounters both before and after his treatment with all playing multiple roles. Much like the world as viewed through the eyes of Alex, the set is bleak and desolate with little light or colour. The asymmetric constructed frame gives a filmic quality to scenes played upstage, though audibility becomes a problem with several of the actors when they are further away from the audience. In addition, the decision to use a hazer throughout means that much of the time people’s faces are obscured, which is particularly frustrating when trying to follow the Russian inspired “Nadsat” slang the teenage characters use.
The dystopian world of A Clockwork Orange is never pinned down to a particular time or place, but the choice of costumes and some local accents help to highlight much of the contemporary relevance. With political u-turns and staged photo opportunities a familiar sight, along with today’s BBC headlines revealing that “one in six young offenders are back behind bars within a month”, director Max Bromley’s production asks topical questions about how we as a society deal with crime and violence. It offers a thoughtful and chilling examination of the symbiotic relationship between destruction and creation and the effects of removing freedom of choice; and questions how much violence and rebellion can be considered an unavoidable part of growing up.
Reviewed for Left Lion