Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange is not exactly a pretty work. Plenty of people get beaten up and assaulted – some don’t make it out alive – just because Alex DeLarge and his Nadsat-spewing gang of Droogs in the underbelly of Manchester, UK, need something to do to kill time. But while the novella and the film are characterised by gory depictions of their brand of physical ultraviolence, this stage production – directed by Alexandra Spencer-Jones, and based on a script by Burgess – shifts its focus to something a lot more psychological and political.
For one, the cast is all male. For another, the brutal scenes are replaced by lucid choreography set to a cacophonous soundtrack that smashes Beethoven’s classical music together with new-wave and synthpop. We see the world through Alex’s eyes more so than our own. To him, violence is beautiful. But that’s not to say that those parts are any easier to watch, as our minds fill in the gap of what’s really happening.
The production does feel rushed, however, and the plot can be difficult to follow for those who are not familiar with it because of how selectively the scenes are portrayed. We don’t get a full sense of how much damage the Droogs do on a regular basis, for instance, because the first act simply flies by in a blur of noise and action. In a way, this makes it easier to empathise with Alex when the tables turn and he becomes the government’s guinea pig of the Ludovico experiment, where he’s forced to react to violence and sex – and, unintentionally, music – by throwing up. But at the same time, he never becomes as full-fledged a villain as he does in the book and movie.
Jonno Davies plays Alex competently, switching between a hunky monster and a vulnerable child at the drop of a hat, but the other characters lack depth. Everyone does their part, but there is little chemistry between the actors. Still, this is an interesting interpretation of a classic work that will force the audience to think hard about how much control the state really should have over its citizens’ minds.