Physicality, energy, violence, brutality, arousal, triumph, horror. These are the surprisingly visceral words that come up when you type “Action to the Word” into Google. The company will be performing last year’s festival sell-out A Clockwork Orange again at next month’s Edinburgh Fringe.
The show, which – with alarming relevance – brings Anthony Burgess’ novel about youth rebellion and violence into the the modern day, is composed of an all-male cast and has received rave reviews. “It was such a fantastic summer for us last year,” company director Alexandra Spencer-Jones tells me. “We’ve been working on Clockwork since 2009 and it was lovely to be able to bring it to such a diverse and engaged audience. Martin’s award and our warm reception from the press were the icing on the cake.” Changes to the production for this year’s run include “three new powerhouse actors” who will take on “even tougher, more aesthetic physical work.”
“I enjoy the thin line between comedy and tragedy,” Spencer-Jones continues. “People have left the show in fits of laughter and in floods of tears. At the heart of the dystopia is a simple morality tale, which is why the novel was deemed so subversive in the 1960s. Alex is the perfect anti-hero: a rapist and a murderer, yet somehow by the middle of the play we’re with him, on his side. He is betrayed again and again by the social system, teachers, doctors, policemen – the play is as relevant now as it was when it was written and will remain so for as long as boys will be boys. My vision for the piece came entirely from my fascination with the behaviour of boys. The audience should come away with a whole mix of things – revulsion, eroticism, anger, comedy.”
Having an all-male cast has invited the question, “Is the production a gay Clockwork Orange?” but Spencer-Jones maintains that the play is “about all kinds of sexuality. Alex’s rape of a man is, like all forms of rape, about power. My choice to just have men on stage blurs the boundaries between the sexes, generations and people from all walks of life. I’ve always been fascinated by original practice and men playing women convincingly. Clockwork is a real acting experiment, the actors play 8 parts each, shape-shifting from policemen to prostitutes, jailers to old ladies. It’s a testament to their acting as an ensemble.”
Martin McCreadie, who plays the lead role Alex DeLarge, agrees that the atmosphere within an all-male cast is “absolutely brilliant. There is an innate pack mentality that lads can sometimes get caught up in. I remember, before last year’s Edinburgh run of Clockwork, one of the lads had discovered a grueling fitness regime called the Spartacus workout. We surrendered ourselves to this self-torture and it made for good banter, and a healthy competition to get ready for a physically demanding show. I’m interested to see what fitness fad we’ll be hurting ourselves with this year!” His experience with A Clockwork Orange “almost cannot be put into words. I have been so fortunate to portray such an iconic role in such an iconic piece. The rehearsals are full on, not only for my own character but for all the other lads in the company and their multi-characterisations. It’s physical, physical, physical and all the while very demanding in terms of mental application and focus. I love the aesthetic we achieve: moments of an almost catwalk/pop video image obsession, juxtaposed with brutal, visceral violence. The most challenging aspect is the fact that I don’t really come off the stage for more than 5 seconds, so I need to make sure I’m on my A-game, achieving all the necessary light and shade in my performance to keep the audience on board with Alex DeLarge’s extraordinary journey. I sometimes think of the kitsch elements of the pop art of Andy Warhol or Jeff Koons, which whilst seeming fun and uplifting, actually allude to something quite serious or sick in our society.”
The ongoing relevance of the show for today’s youth is continually emphasized by both director and actor. “The list of reasons for under 25s to come and see this show is endless,” McCreadie asserts. “The soundtrack, the movement, the unique language, the dark humour, the pace at which the storyline zips by, etc. Speaking from my own character’s point of view, Alex DeLarge actually represents a lot of feelings that young people are actually being subjected to today. The high expectations laden on the youth from parents, the media, commercialism, the government, the older generations in general, even the church. Left wing, right ring, it doesn’t matter – expectations of the youth of today are high, yet when young people are either graduating or trying to secure apprenticeships of even enter higher education or simple employment, the way is barred. The door is shut, fees and costs of living independently are rocketing while opportunities decline. It is the same all over Europe and I think the riots throughout the UK last year were an indication of what can occur when the youth are spurned. Alex DeLarge represents all of this.”
“Young people are absolutely vital to the progression of any performative style or medium, not just theatre. It is the vitality and daring that flows freely through young people that makes for exciting new ideas, without which the theatrical world would stagnate and decline. Does theatre alienate young people? Yes and no. In this smartphone age, younger people want results and experiences quicker than ever before, so live performances have to be on par with these expectations, which I think our Clockwork achieves. There are not enough proper theatres in some parts of the UK and many well-known establishments particularly in London, price the younger generation out of the market. On the flip side, there are opportunities for wonderful experiences if we seek them out. I saw a free performance of The Tempest at the RSC a month ago. It was an understudy run, but the production values, artistic vision and a high calibre of theatre were all still on display. In terms of creating and performing theatre, there are plenty of dramatic societies across the UK that are constantly putting on performances. The onus is on us young people ourselves to seek them out and get involved.”
A Clockwork Orange will play at the Pleasance Forth for the duration of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year before transferring to The Old Market in Brighton in the autumn. For more information about Action to the Word, visit their website www.actiontotheword.com. To book tickets at the Pleasance or for more information, visit www.pleasance.co.uk/edinburgh.
Image credit: Action to the Word