Thanks to Stanley Kubrick, the image of Alex, ultra-violent teenager and Beethoven freak, remains painfully engraved on our collective eyeball. Subsequent adaptations of Anthony Burgess's novel have to wrestle with Malcolm McDowell's cult performance as Alex. But Burgess's dark, brilliant book is itself no picnic for an audience: spiked with menacing 'Nasdat' slang; unnervingly focused on the question of whether it's better to be free to do evil than forced to do good, it's hardgoing without the compensatory beauties of cinematography or soaring prose.
Swansea-based company Volcano bring real intelligence to this five-person staging. But nothing in this 85-minute adaptation of Burgess's novel quite lives up to the clarity and eloquence you can find in the show's programmes (I chose the white, not the black, putting myself in the camp of corrupt, drug-dispensing authority).
The problem is partly the Arcola. Volcano's show would have more impact if the small audience were concentrated directly in front of it. Instead they're on all 3 sides, making the backdrop of TV monitors hard to see for two thirds of the audience.
I'm sure we'll hear more from Volcano: the British / American /Scottish ensemble do mannered and disturbing work, writhing their way through implied rapings, beatings and physical jerks. (Warning: many Barbie dolls are harmed in this production.) Mairi Phillips, who complains about having to get her breasts out as the only woman, makes an impressively distinctive Alex.
But the thwarted moral world of Burgess's novel – and the schitzophrenic anti-hero at the centre of it – get so fractured that it might as well all be in Nasdat. As the occasional golden shower of horrorshow words demonstrates, Burgess's singular language has more rhythm and force than the actions, despite the skill of Catherine Bennett's choreography. I was impressed but confused. And the retching, gunshot-filled ending gave me a pain in me Gulliver.