A Clockwork Orange, Alexandra Spencer-Jones, Anthony Burgess, C on Chambers Street, Crime, Edinburgh Festival, Edinburgh Fringe, Martin McCreadie, Morality, Nihilism, Teenager, Theatre Review, Violence, Youth
Action to the Word‘s take on Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange has been forged in the same fire as their adaptation of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus (both of them are currently playing in C on Chambers Street), and these two gorgeously violent plays seem to be as joined at the hip as Queen Tamora’s vicious sons. But they have taken “A Clockwork Orange” more seriously and dispensed with the women, only delegating the direction to Alexandra Spencer-Jones. The whole play is gratuitously gay, perhaps more so because the cast are evidently completely straight. Their ballet-flavoured burlesque cabaret is certainly colourful, but it is initially like watching a piece of technical precision from some elite clowns. Besides, everybody can see the cast’s wives sitting in a row at the front.
These exuberantly camp theatrics carry the slight, unfortunate quality of blackface minstrelsy, with somebody’s authentic culture being mimicked only for the purposes of novelty. Moreover, with the stage becoming a nightclub dance floor and everybody seeming to enjoy themselves rather too much, there is increasingly a danger of this production drifting off the road altogether. One can almost hear Spencer-Jones hissing from the wings, “back to A Clockwork Orange!”
But you would have to be a miserable theatre critic not to enjoy “A Clockwork Orange,” and although I have a go at disliking the play, this proves impossible. Martin McCreadie‘s Alex is as cocksure and distant and unpredictable as a real teenager, but the performance ultimately rests on his sheer physical magnetism, and it only resorts sparingly to the droogs’ Nadsat for an occasional diversion. Yet the physicality of these boys remains more beautiful than menacing, and this was a weakness that I have encountered in other productions of A Clockwork Orange. One may have to blame the writing. Burgess himself would have been the first to admit that A Clockwork Orange is hardly Shakespeare, and this story’s glorious pageantry and effusiveness essentially draws the sting from its misanthropic fantasy about mindless teenagers.
Indeed, dramatising A Clockwork Orange only draws attention to its flimsiness and its awe of quack science. Alex may be conditioned to find violence nauseating, but as many people are naturally nauseated by violence, we approach the possibility that the state has merely restored human instincts to an inhuman creature. In any case, Alex could demonstrate “free will” by simply overcoming his nausea, just as any medical student will have to conquer their natural squeamishness in order to become a doctor.
But at least somebody has benefited from the London riots and this production of A Clockwork Orange has been able to incorporate several canny references to the present state of the nation. Ludovico’s technique is being piloted because the prisons are full, whilst the smarmy Minister who needs a quick fix for youth crime certainly chimes with the latest government initiatives and interventions which are now cascading down to Tottenham. If the state’s achievement in this play is to make a teenager vomit to the sound of Beethoven, then this is blunt metaphor for modern education. Yet Action to the Word do nothing to challenge Burgess’ assumption that young people are essentially destructive zombies, when, far more than this play’s affected campness, such an idea is indeed as queer as a clockwork orange.