A very rocky horror show

THEATRE: A Clockwork Orange Newcastle Playhouse
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During the interval of A Clockwork Orange, I noticed a poster for a related conference on youth crime titled "Deprived or Depraved?" The question could be answered very well, I thought, by one of the thugs who sing "Gee, Officer Krupke: I'm depraved on account of I'm deprived."

Northern Stage's production of Anthony Burgess's text also brings West Side Story to mind, with its gang violence treated as gymnastics and modern dance. Alex, the teenage killer of a sinister future Britain, punches an opponent, who goes into a back flip; another, thrown to the floor, rolls over three times and slides. In his programme notes, the director, Alan Lyddiard, says he expects to be accused of making crime glamorous, but that to understand Alex we have to recognise the allure of violence, not only for him, but for all of us.

Lyddiard's premise is right, but, in this execution, the glamour is too slick, and too freely applied. Neil Murray's design looks great - a sharply angled white set is splashed with dribbly streaks of colour, like the background of a Steadman drawing, and the boys, in red vinyl codpieces, chase girls in micro-dresses of flaming orange and bubblegum pink. But why do the official and traditional characters also have painted faces and lurid costumes? The kindly, conservative writer attacked by Alex and his friends has a shaven skull and shrieking Chinese pyjamas, and his innocent wife wears a purple dress slit nearly to the waist from both directions and what have lately become known as F-me shoes. What should be a picture of vulnerable cosiness looks like the home life of Steven Berkoff.

Although street violence is represented as one actor doing a high kick while another, two feet away, mimes fear and pain, sexual violence is more realistic and intense. Alex and his three mates strip the screaming wife nearly naked, drop their pants, and force themselves between her legs. The scene is not there simply to disgust us or turn us on: as the boys nod, grinning, in time to Alex's thrusts, it's clear that gang rape is their way of being intimate with one another. Still, it also points up the limits of Burgess's theme of universal evil: Alex, after all, addresses us as "brothers" rather than "brothers and sisters".

That scene also has a youthful glee missing from Andrew Howard's performance. Though his platinum crop gives him the look of a new-hatched chick, neither the play nor his acting conveys a 14-year-old's sudden shifts of mood, alternately tough, childish, enthusiastic, and blase. The talk of "horrorshow devotchkas" and "tolchocking a veck" is difficult to follow, and the original ending, which the film version discarded, is now the most dated thing about this vision of the future. Burgess's diminuendo about the ordinariness of evil - Alex gives up violence when he gets a bit older and wants a wife and son - was once shocking, but, a generation on, doesn't make sense: we know that a desire for domesticity is by no means universal, and that violence often begins at home.

The striking design of this Orange and the ferocious energy of Lyddiard's company make a visually exciting evening, but, emotionally and intellectually, it's a rather rocky horror show.

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Rhoda Koenig

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