1st March 2007
This was a ‘scratch’ performance of an adaptation by Chris Thorpe of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. The idea is that the audience will feed back on how the work in progress might develop. It should not be judged in the same way as a finished production.
The novel was published in 1962. Stanley Kubrik subsequently and controversially filmed it in 1971. In addition, Burgess himself prepared a stage version, which was revived in 1990 by the RSC.
The story concerns Alex the leader of a teenage gang devoted to violence and music. They are alienated from society, beyond all social and political control. Subsequently Alex’s mind is destroyed by the state as it attempts to brainwash him into conformity. This is subject matter that resonates with the early 21st century concerns about feral children. Modern society fears its offspring and seems to prefer punishment to rehabilitation and re-integration into society.
So, altogether, this is a good a choice novel to bring to the stage. It presents an excellent opportunity to draw parallels with modern Britain and create a piece full of social and political meaning. Indeed, the company (Breaking Cycles) under director Benji Reid advocates ‘Hip Hop Theatre’. Consequently expectations are high from the start but unfortunately disappointed as the evening unfolds. It would be easy to be over-critical and ungenerous about the production – it is, after all, a work in progress.
However, the narrative arc was quite hard to follow. There was little sense of why the audience should sympathise or empathise with gang leader Alex. Sean Cernow brings this character to rather monotonous Liverpudlian life. The rest of his gang has similar accents –which suggests accent is being used as shorthand to indicate that they are working class. However, in the novel, Alex is decidely middle-class. The production needed to make it clear why these changes had been made.
Burgess started his creative life as more of a composer than novelist – and in both novel and film classical music plays a large part. This production had specially composed music that sounded like something Erik Satie might have discarded- an endless faux Gymnopedie, prompting the further question why was there a move from rhythmically strong romantic music to a more expressionistic sound world?
At points it feels as though there is too much exposition: Alex has some very long monologues and nothing much happens during them. If they’re meant to give an insight into Alex’s being, they don’t really succeed.
There was a section where he was being brainwashed. Three cameras focussed closely on his face and their images were projected on the back wall of the theatre. Again this went on for rather too long. The performer couldn’t sustain the intensity of this multiple gaze on his agonised response to what he was enduring.
And having seen Michael Gambon in Eh Joe last summer – in which his features were similarly projected as he responded to outside stimuli – it was impossible not to compare the two performances – unfairly I know. Katie Mitchell has also used this technique more effectively – most notably in The Waves in this same auditorium at the end of last year. The use of video needs careful thought if it is not to simply appear as a gimmick.