Anthony Burgess’ ridiculously-relevant novel of morality and ultraviolent youth A Clockwork Orange has been brought to the stage by theatre company Volcano, whose production is currently marinating the boards of the Arcola in warm milk and severed Barbie doll legs.
Director Paul Davies focuses heavily on the book’s language. The characters not only speak in Nadsat, the lingo invented by Burgess that Alex and his droogs “govoreet” in, they narrate the action of the play in it; talking is constant and in several different accents – Scottish, Irish, English, American (or Canadian, I’m no expert), and languages. The play is evidently heavily researched, loves its source material and has points to make. The heart of this show is in the right place, but I don’t see it making those of its audience pound.
…actors either simulate sex with the floor (always a bad move)…
The production suffers from the decision to have the cast of five unassigned to individual roles: all the actors play all the characters with no indicators to inform the audience that role switches have taken place. This decision may serve a purpose (Alex, a dangerous and tormented youth, is everyone and, judging from the range of accents, everywhere), but it is a purpose which serves that idea, not the audience. It is nigh on impossible to bond with anybody, and is really, really annoying to try to follow. Davies had a cast large enough to play the gang, so why not, I dunno, have them play the gang…?
Ideas within the play have potential but are executed poorly, resulting in the whole feeling quite flat. For example, the attack on the writer and his wife is performed by an actor manipulating two Barbie type dolls on top of a typewriter. A nice idea that could have been effective, however the events are narrated by one actor while the puppeteer either speaks the same or entirely different lines simultaneously, resulting in most words being lost. Meanwhile the remaining actors either simulate sex with the floor (always a bad move) or gyrate and contort in the background while chopping the limbs off other dolls, consequently, there was too much going on for anything to make an impact. The potential intensity and horror of the scene is simply lost.
…a 15 year old murdering rapist doesn’t need to try to be shocking.
The use of microphones in a small space like the Arcola was only ever going to be an unnecessary assault on the audience’s ears, and with so many instances of heavy symbolism and shock the whole thing smacks of, well, trying to be symbolic and shocking. Trying to be either of these things isn’t the same as being them. Audiences find symbolism on their own, (literary academics make careers of finding symbolism where none was intended), and a story about a 15 year old murdering rapist mentally tortured by an experimental government surely doesn’t need to try to be shocking.
The cast are strong, brave, and give their all into their often brutal and challenging roles with intense energy and volume. The play’s flaws spring purely from production decisions. If you’re going to take an intelligent and admired literary and cinematic classic and do it yourself, you better make sure you have an intelligent and admirable take on it that you are able to pull off, oh my brothers. Otherwise, don’t. Just don’t.
The production runs at the Arcola Theatre until 21 April.
Tickets from £12
Image courtesy of Phil Rees