A Clockwork in Progress – An Action to The Word Production
Coming to produce A Clockwork Orange on stage must surely be a daunting task. The story began life in 1962 as Anthony Burgess’ novel, and gained notoriety in 1971 with Stanley Kubrick’s cult classic adaptation. Both novel and film are considered classics of the twentieth-century and anyone coming along to Action of the Word’s stage adaptation (written by Burgess himself) will struggle to block out the image of Malcolm McDowell as the arch-type anti-hero, Alex De Large. Nevertheless Martin McCreadie makes a good effort in shaking off McDowell’s ghost.
The story itself is simple. In a not-too-distant dystopian future teen-street-gangs run rampart committing ultraviolence and the old in-out in-out (rape). Alex is the leader of his gang and everything seems fine in his consequence free world until he’s picked up for murder and sent to prison. There he puts on a pious show for the prison Charlie and begs to be given the new Ludovico treatment, a technique said to cure a person of their criminal tendencies in two weeks. Herein lies Burgess philosophical question. Is it better to willfully do evil, or forcibly do good? The tale is both confronting and shocking.
Unfortunately director Alexandra Spencer-Jones misses much of this. Potentially a smaller space where these acts of violence could be pushed in the audiences’ face would have allowed for it, but inside the Seymour Centre this is all lost with distance. An all-male cast doesn’t help her cause. Although Spencer-Jones states that this choice was to enhance the testosterone levels of the play, and that it wasn’t meant to be gay or straight, anyone who didn’t read her comment would probably disagree. Gay mannerisms are rife on the stage, especially when the lads take on female personas. This is in part due to the fact that the female roles are largely caricatures. Further, they are all very interested in touching each other up. Neither Burgess nor Kubrick’s droogs were like that. To make them so only muddies the thematic water. Several dance routines don’t add anything to the piece; and was it really necessary to bring oranges onto the stage … oh wait, because the play’s called A Clockwork ‘Orange’…..spare us, please.
Despite these directorial faults, the cast was largely consistent and certainly energetic. Martin McCreadie (Alex De Large) does a marvellous job of leading the show. Although 26, he very successfully embodied the 15 year old hooligan. McCreadie’s performance was well observed, especially noticeable in his physicality. He provided a powerful raw energy that was very often unmatched by his co-stars. McCreadie was particularly impressive simply because he did the work and found his own ‘voice’ independent of McDowell’s.
In the supporting cast, Damien Hasson was more convincing as The Rev then he was as Deltoid (Alex’s truant officer). As Deltoid, he felt compelled by gimmick (like the film) but did not carry it off with the same gravitas. The Rev was more genuine – showing us a glimmer of the show’s theme which would have been otherwise lost.
Of note in the Ensemble, Philip Honeywell had a lot of fun as the Warder and Marty (Alex’s later love interest) – he was confident which achieved both roles potential, albeit a limited one. Simon Cotton was pleasantly surprising (and convincing) as Joe the lodger, who takes Alex’s place and room whilst he is away. He was gruff and threatening which provided an excellent contrast to the now reformed Alex. James Smoker was especially well suited to the role of the Minister, providing a good voice and balance to the sly politician. Unfortunately, Stephen Spencer’s Dim was poorly executed. He was inaudible and could not make up for it with any particularly superior feats of physicality. Generally, the whole cast was too soft which, coupled with a fast pace, made for difficult listening. Not an easy task considering the Nadsat. Spencer-Jones may also have been mistaken in getting the cast to talk in strange batman-esque gruff tones in places as it did nothing to add menace and merely made them more difficult to comprehend.
In the end some pieces don’t translate into theatre. It is difficult to theatrically recreate what can be done on page and screen, especially when the piece is as well-known as this. The production ultimately fails not for its cast but for its directorial choices. The play is already very contemporary, and Spencer-Jones was ill-advised to further contemporise it. The masculinity and testosterone is lost in a production that has obviously been designed to adopt both hipster and camp qualities. There is no vision here, and with such a condensed script it is extremely noticeable. Ultimately, Spencer–Jones’ biggest failing is in her misinterpretation of the play’s message. This is not a story about sex. It is about violence. The actors should not be performing frequent sexual acts on themselves or others. If anything, there should be more fighting. The production values resemble an HSC drama group performance: a disappointment considering how long it has been in development.
A Clockwork Orange is on at The Seymour Centre’s York Theatre until the 5th of May, for more details see: http://www.seymourcentre.com/events/event/a-clockwork-orange/
If for no other reason there is a lot of eye candy on stage.