Written by Anthony Burgess
Directed by Nick Bagnall
A few weeks ago I got the opportunity to watch a rehearsal of A Clockwork Orange taking place in The International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester. It was quite fascinating to watch this young repertory company test out ideas and work on songs and choreography with director Nick Bagnall and choreographer Etta Murfitt. It was abundantly clear that this was a project spilling over with fresh juice and with no sign of any element being coldly mechanized. Thankfully this production has reached perfect fruition with its wonderfully, pithy songs and dialogue from Burgess, and excellent full bodied performances from the cast.
The staging looks startlingly simple with its neon lighting and milk white cube structure. Some of the cast are already on stage all clad in white. It is sleek, clean and pure in its sterility. As the music floods in and Alex starts to conduct there is so much beauty on stage it scarcely matters that he is conducting with a flick-knife rather than a baton. In the blink of an eye the floor can open up with options for grand entrances and dramatic or comic exits. Molly Lacey Davies and Jocelyn Meall have designed a set that is deceptively simple but is a treasure trove creating a myriad of moods and settings. The aversion therapy scenes are visually quite stunning. They are visceral and shocking and evoke something akin to Christ on the cross with Alex wearing the dystopian equivalent of a crown of thors as he looks down on the horrors mankind is capable off.
The Everyman Company take on a multitude of characters and breathe life and authenticity into them. There is a bloodied rape victim tied with vivid blue clothesline cord, Deltoid evoking a saturnine Alastair Sims, the writer F.Alexander is bludgeoned and his beloved wife is viciously assaulted. Amongst the brutality there are also moments of vaudevillian humour with little gems of Elvis type lookalikes, puppet wielding government ministers, and allusions to Jimmy Saville wearing a I’m a Pedo medallion and clutching a fat cigar. Alex and his Droogs are relentless in their thirst for life and all of its juice. Nothing in life, bar the music of Beethoven appears to be sacred.
Burgess created an intriguing and provocative hero who is thuggish yet also cultured and intelligent. George Caple brings a freshness and energy to Alex making his character always likable regardless of his monstrous crimes. The scenes during his treatment with the Ludovico Technique are deeply moving and hard to watch. Watching him in those scenes was chilling and reminded me of speaking to prisoners from Park Lane Hospital who went through similar classical conditioning procedures and covert sensitisation for crimes of sexual violence in the 1980s.
Richard Bremmer is always charismatic on stage whether he is threatening as Deltoid, delivering a wonderful ruddy, drunken priest or strolling across stage in a tiny satin robe with a curly pigs tail. Liam Tobin embodies the earnest writer F Alexander, and sings beautifully as he poignantly mourns his wife. Zelina Rebeiro is always engaging and especially so as she transforms into a sulty temptress to haunt a traumatized Alex. Phil Rayner from Young Everyman Playhouse(YEP) has really grown in confidence and created some great comic moments.
Nick Bagnall has honoured this play with music ensuring that the vision Burgess had in 1986 is finally realised on stage. The songs are a gleeful celebration of music hall tradition. The musicality of the lyrics make the Russian/Cockney slang of the Nadsat seem instantly more accessible and reminiscent of the joy of James Joyce’s Ulysses. The use of musician and percussionist Peter Mitchell is inspired and really adds to the look of the piece as well as the sound, in that he evokes all the youth and energy of another Droog.
A Clockwork Orange asks us to look at the power of choice. Is it better be bad of one’s own free will than be good through scientific brainwashing? In a world where we are all at risk of brainwashing through the daily assault of the internet it is vital to be challenged and reminded of how we exercise our own free will. This piece is brutally violent and yet also angelic at times. The cast move around the audience as they come and go, and address us directly at times, even inviting us to applaud the outcome of Alex’s aversion treatment. As we applaud we are of course colluding with the destruction of choice; it is a relief when Alex finally reverts to his old ways and finds his own way to redemption.
Burgess said “I do not like this book as much as others I have written. I have kept it, till recently, in an unopened jar- marmalade, a preserve on a shelf, rather than an orange on a dish.” I hope that he would approve of the vibrant juicy nature of this production.