Theatre: Kubrick casts a shadow
Wednesday 21 October 1998
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE NORTHERN STAGE COMPANY
IT IS a testament to the continuing rawness of the nerves touched by Anthony Burgess's 36-year-old novel A Clockwork Orange that aspects of his treatment now seem dated. Given the quantity of theorising devoted to issues such as the roots of violence, the antipathy between individual autonomy and social order, and what to do with disaffected, under-occupied young men, it would be strange if the arguments had not moved on.
But it is a vindication, too, of the author's acuity of vision that his framing of these questions retains such power to trouble us, as it did Burgess himself. "I begin to accept," he wrote shortly before his death, in an article on the Jamie Bulger case, "that as a novelist, I belong to the ranks of the menacing."
The production, co-directed by Alan Lyddiard, head of the newly consolidated Northern Stage Company, and the dance artist Mark Murphy, translates this menace to the stage with rather too little ambiguity but tremendous visual style. Scenes are set and sets are suggested by the high-speed manipulation of wheeled metal screens and scaffolds, which combine with huge backdrop projections. The latter bombard us with magnified cinematic versions of the live action, deafeningly accompanied by music - from techno to Beethoven.
The more obvious period aspects of the allegory are retouched into an ironic dash of B-movie sci-fi schlock, expressed chiefly by some luridly cartoonish costumes and wigs. There's also a debt to the spirit of Stanley Kubrick in the semi-stylised savagery of the assault and gang-rape sequences which, at their adrenaline-fuelled strongest, deliver a genuinely sickening punch, though others seem over-extended and under-choreographed.
The loser in all this is Burgess's language, the invented futuristic patois of "nadsat" in which the narrator-protagonist, Alex, recounts his tale. Its blend of colloquial English with Russian, Shakespearean and other carefully bastardised borrowings is challenging enough on the page; but poorly projected from the stage, as it was too often here, though the rhythmic energy of Alex Elliot's delivery, in his namesake's lead role, contributed towards the overall driving momentum.
Yet it is through the language that we're drawn into the subtleties of Burgess's moral and philosophical investigation. And that is clearest in the gauntlet he throws down: is choosing to be bad better than being brainwashed into behaving yourself? This level of complexity is pretty much precluded by the production's emphasis on scale and sensory impact, which ultimately undermines the story's deeper and more lingering reverberations.
Touring UK-wide until 28 November, also spring 1999
tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods
tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 President of Argentina adopts Jewish godson to 'stop him turning into a werewolf'
- 2 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public set to see exhibits from police’s grisly crime museum
- 4 Sir Winston Churchill’s family begged him not to convert to Islam, letter reveals
- 5 UK weather: 'Coldest night of the year' tonight as freezing temperatures plummet to -10C
Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014, review: Love is everywhere, actually
The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
Exodus: Gods and Kings banned in the UAE for 'religious mistakes'
Game of Thrones is most-pirated TV show of 2014
Doctor Who and the BBC 'promoting a gay agenda', viewers complain
Millions of Britons struggling to feed themselves and facing malnourishment
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Nigel Farage: Ukip leader named 'Briton of the year' by The Times
Immigrants make UK racist, says Ukip councillor Trevor Shonk