Action To The Word’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’
When Mr Routledge, my subversive and rather brilliant English teacher, started reading A Clockwork Orange to us at Liverpool College he pre-warned, ‘Whatever you do, do not tell your parents we are reading this novel’. Of course, you can imagine the thrill for a class of fourteen year olds, hanging on every single word of Nadsat. I found myself hiding the book under my pillow at night in case I dropped my teacher in it.
So my love affair with A Clockwork Orange began, dragging me real scorry into a love of anarchic writing and visceral theatre. As I revisit my theatre adaptation of A Clockwork Orange for the third time in the year of the 50th anniversary of the novel, I’m just desperate to find Alexander amongst the bowler hats, eyelashes…the ‘welly welly well thens’ and tramps beaten in alleyways.
It was amazing to come to the Burgess Foundation in June to celebrate his work and the success of his masterpiece. What has always enthralled me, and somewhat broken my heart, is that the writer evidently resented the triumph of his novel, a work he deemed second rate to his other more finished pieces. Distressed by the film, Burgess goes so far in his play adaptation to bring the character of Kubrick onto stage, kicked off and attacked by the Droogs, expressing his disdain for the prolific success and popularisation of the film. At the conference we learned that bored and frustrated by a plethora of second-rate theatrical adaptations, Burgess brought a definitive playtext together himself using the addition of songs to create effectively A Clockwork Orange – The Musical. Major productions of this version have come under scrutiny worldwide as audiences find it so hard to reconcile the ‘lightness’ and alienating effect of the songs with the heavy, psychological nature of the story. In the RSC’s hallmark production the music of U2 was used, at Stratford East last year new music was created for the piece and earlier this year Volcano edited the music out altogether.
Fans of the book are desperate to see the story played out truthfully. The Kubrick film denies us the controversial ending of both the play and the book – an ending whereby Alex just simply ‘grows up’ and describes all the chaos and anarchism we’ve experienced with him as part of the very natural process of adolescence. Indeed, Burgess goes a step further with this in the novel and shows one of Alex’s former partners in crime, Pete, as a happily married man attending wine and cheese evenings. Alex wants children. Alex wants it all to stop. The play describes being young as ‘a sort of sickness’ and says that one can only start one’s ‘Ode to Joy’ when one ‘Builds instead of busting’.
The drive behind Action To The Word’s adaptation is born of our love for Alex. When we become empathetic with a murderer and a rapist we begin a very complex journey indeed. At fifteen years old, our Alex is a consummate hedonist, a perverse, sadistic bad boy who will stop at nothing in the pursuit of pleasure. We love his glamour, his physicality, his knowledge, musicianship and manners. Across media Alex is portrayed as a villain – a walking cane emulating the like of Mack The Knife, a psychotic stare – bolshy boys and girls at Halloween parties with badly drawn eye-liner running down their faces.
So Alex is a villain. A villain everywhere – except for in the novel. Told in his voice, from his deeply analytical and humorous perspective, we’re drawn easily into his shoes. This boy sees the world in simply a different way, like J.D. Salinger’s Caulfield, or Graham Greene’s Pinky. Though Alex is a ravisher, we are ravished by him – his humour and charm, his plight and the way, to quote him, that everybody ‘gets on to’ him.
‘This is the modern world. Sick, sick – mortally sick’ Dr Brodsky
At its simplest, A Clockwork Orange is a morality tale and a satire, gutting and exploring the battle between the state and the individual and the age-old exploration of good and evil. In the light of last year’s riots across the country the story delivers a contemporary message about how the disaffected react under extreme pressure and how the effects of a dehumanising regime can reflect on an emerging generation. The novel and the play boldly put us in the hands of the rebellious protagonist and goes to extreme lengths to show all aspects of society failing him in his adolescence. His over-zealous social worker and his parents let him down, men of science abuse him and the government dehumanises him. The ways in which we can draw comparisons with the events of last summer are clear.
Directing A Clockwork Orange is a total pleasure for me. To explore the work of a writer like Burgess and to have the opportunity to bring my own love of physical theatre and talented team of lads to the stage, continues to delight me and I hope our audiences after two and a half years. The show, now produced by Glynis Henderson Productions will be coming to a town near you in 2013 and plays throughout August at Pleasance Courtyard in Edinburgh, and in Brighton September 20th-22nd.
Alexandra Spencer-Jones, Director