What’s it going to be then, eh? Queer as a Clockwork Orange!
by Jeremy Miles
Saw this fascinating stage production of A Clockwork Orange the other day. With an all-male cast and a bi-sexual vibe it somehow worked. It’s a strange, if understandable, fact that violence against women, as portrayed in Anthony Burgess‘s original book and later in Stanley Kubrick‘s famous film, is so shocking and unacceptable now that, if portrayed on stage, it would utterly eclipse the underlying message of the play. Even though it is a fictional account. So we have a production in which they substitute male rape with a broken bottle and it seems to go down just fine. What a weird world! Queer as a clockwork orange in fact. The word queer is of course being used here in its 1950s/60s sense to mean ‘strange’. What a powerful re-reading of a masterful story. A play that really gets its point across. See my review below.
It is more than half a century since Anthony Burgess spent three frenzied weeks writing his famous dystopian novella. A decade later Stanley Kubrick turned Burgess’s bleak tale of gangs, youth violence and corruption into the most controversial film of the late 20th century.
A Clockwork Orange is certainly the only movie to be banned by its own director for nearly 30 years because he was so concerned about the effect its content would have on copycat delinquency. Even now it still resonates with a contemporary audience that instantly recognises the menace in psychopathic young anti-hero Alex and his gang of thugs who, high on boredom and drugs, dispense terror and sickening violence on the streets.
Though it has been produced as a stage drama on many occasions, A Clockwork Orange has often proved a difficult play to pull off. This production, directed by Alexandra Spencer-Jones for Action To The Word, strips the story back to its essence and with pulsing music, dramatic choreography and an all-male cast, creates a powerful drama heightened by a homoerotic makeover.
With a simple black-curtained set and balletic choreography, it explores the world of tribal gangs set apart by their own coded language and dysfunctional relationship with a society that feeds off them before trying to beat them into submission. More importantly it focuses on the alpha-male – highly intelligent, dangerously disaffected and completely amoral – who becomes their self-selected leader.
Adam Search is compelling as the swaggering, Beethoven-loving, knife-wielding Alex, a teenage killer who rages at the world full of unstoppable anger. He is both a violent public enemy and a victim of the authorities who determine to break him by whatever means. A text-book psycho, Alex is the perfect guinea-pig for a repellant aversion-cure seen as a vote-catcher by a government intent on emptying the overcrowded prisons.
Predictably the untested procedure has unexpected repercussions. Though Alex is psychologically ‘disarmed’ he is helpless as society takes its inevitable revenge. The message is clear. Free will is at the very core of humanity and sometimes the real brutes are the state sanctioned oppressors.
A Clockwork Orange projects a dark view of an uncertain future – a constant for British society for decades. In this elegant but hard-hitting drama, Spencer-Jones suggests that nothing much is likely to change. As the play draws to a close we see the next generation of gang members, brutalized by life, psyching themselves up to “do” someone out on the streets. The cycle of violence continues.
*A Clockwork Orange plays Lighthouse, Poole, until Wednesday 25th September. Performances at 7.45pm plus a Wednesday matinee at 2.30pm.