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Anthony Burgess 'A Clockwork Orange'
Published on Monday, 09 August 2010

3.5 stars

theSpaces on the Mile @ The Radisson (venue website)
Aug 9 - 21, 7:20pm (8:50pm)
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

Were there any doubts about the popular draw of the words A Clockwork Orange, they’d be dispelled by the packed house which greeted this new adaptation of the notorious novella.  It is, the performers stress, no mere re-making of Kubrick’s suppressed feature film; starting again from Burgess’s original text, it’s a chance to revisit the author’s original parable on science, society, and personal choice.

This is, of course, a very violent play; and since I knew that full well when I picked it, I can’t now complain about its brutality.  It is fair, though, to dig into my response to the depravity presented on stage, and to ask what it really achieved.  Sad to say, it worked a little too well; the sexual horrors depicted were so extreme I daren’t even allude to them here, yet I was soon as desensitized to them as the lost teenage “droogs” who sit at the story’s core.

On one level, that realization heightened the sense of connection with Burgess’ dystopian near-future world, but on another it deprived me of any true engagement with the young protagonist Alex.  Amy Brangwyn (many of the male characters are played by women) was simply superb in the role; in another play her confident-but-vulnerable portrayal would have cried out to me, but here Alex’s voice was drowned out by the siren of horror they were playing in my other ear.

Still, in the rare quieter moments, I had a chance to properly admire Brangwyn’s deft treatment of a difficult role – cheeky and manipulative, but desperate to break free of the “ultra-violence” which traps all the story’s youth.  The surprisingly large cast all deserve praise, but I’ll also pick out Ellen Rose as the half-mad scientist Dr Brodsky.  Worthy and unworldly, enthusiastic and prim, she was entirely blind to the truth of what she had somehow become.

It’s no coincidence, I think, that the most effective moment for me was the highly-stylized depiction of Alex’s medical “treatment”, where the horror he’s forced to witness was described rather than portrayed.  It’s worth a quick shout too for the opening and closing sequences – a pair of punkish bookends which both visually and viscerally set the scene for Burgess’s nightmare world.  And I haven’t even mentioned the well-managed “nadsat” slang, nor the surrealistic songs peppered throughout the work. 

At the last, though, I circle back to that Kubrick film.  It’s easy to forget that it was never banned; it was withdrawn by a director who, for still-disputed reasons, had simply thought better of what he’d done.  I salute the young Fourth Monkey company for taking on such a controversial work, and in many ways their treatment of it succeeds.  I wonder how they’ll feel, though, in ten years’ time; perhaps this has been a rite of passage, something from which they’ll move on.

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