Anthony Burgess’ 1962 dystopian novel is realised in theatrical form by The Theatre Workshop, charting young delinquent Alex’s imprisonment for murder and his attempted rehabilitation via controversial psychological conditioning.
The youthful exuberance and passion emitted by this promising young group of actors is a joy to watch. Harvey Cole, Felix Brown, Sam Cartwright and Declan Mason are convincingly terrifying as thuggish droogs Pete, Georgie, Dim and Alex. Mason must be especially praised for his performance as the charismatic sociopath Alex, with an inexorable love of Beethoven, while Anna Gould as the callous Dr Brodsky does a commendable job at embodying authority’s disregard for humanity that was then – and remains today – a great concern.
At times the writing is clunky with a few too many appearances from Basil Exposition; however, the show remains well-paced and structurally easy to follow. Contrastingly, the many harrowing scenes of Burgess’s crime thriller are so well executed here that they naturally do not make for easy watching. The iconic scene in which Alex undergoes aversion therapy to “cure” him of his need to commit “ultra-violence” is a triumph on both Gould and Mason’s part.
To borrow too much from Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film would have been a mistake, and it is refreshing to see original interpretations in terms of visuals. A Clockwork Orange is at heart a social commentary and, as such, the aesthetic nods towards the English Defence League work well, whether or not they were intentional.
Heavy on the skinhead vibe, the performance receives a fitting modern revamp. However, in terms of soundtrack, punk and drum ‘n’ bass are favoured over Beethoven. Whilst the juxtaposition works well in places, more could be made of Alex’s love of the composer, whose music arguably underscores his journey from criminal to victim of the system and back again.
Live musicians – including musical director Phil Woods on piano – give an impeccable performance, although the reason for making the piece a musical escapes this particular reviewer. Whole-cast choral renditions of some of Beethoven’s more well-known works are not wholly convincing, and are used in instances in which the actual Beethoven symphony would have been more rousing.
Despite some odd artistic choices, this adaptation of A Clockwork Orange is suitably cacophonous, gratuitous and larger than life, and overall well worth a watch.
A Clockwork Orange played at The Warren as part of the Brighton Fringe on 29-30 May. For more information, see The Theatre Workshop website.