Arts: The week on radio

Like the central character in his latest film, Neil Jordan would rather not grow up. Nick Hasted asked him why
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Indy Lifestyle Online
STANLEY Kubrick is supposed to have banned screenings of his film of A Clockwork Orange in Britain after a copycat killing. As yet, however, recorded incidents of extreme violence inspired by radio drama are thin on the ground, and the picture is unlikely to be changed by last Saturday's adaptation of A Clockwork Orange on Radio 4. The problem for radio violence is partly one of emotional intensity - seeing blood being inevitably more disturbing than hearing about it. Even more importantly, though, it's a matter of sheer comprehensibility: thumps and gurgles, the suggestive chorus of faulty plumbing that stands in for most forms of assault short of a gunfight, are too unspecific to be much help to the listener.

Of course, comprehensibility can be overrated - some of the best radio plays are ones that are prepared to let go of clarity and nuance every so often, if it means boosting action and emotional realism. But in this case there were too many imponderables going on. John Hardy's electronic soundtrack, thumping and glooping away in the background, competed with dialogue spoken largely in Nadsat, the future slang Anthony Burgess invented for the book - a complex jargon which on radio reduces every conversation to a matter of squally muskrats in the upchuck and noddying the flobalobs.

The net result was that, to begin with at any rate, it was hard to make out anything much, except perhaps the splash of metaphorical bathwater swiftly followed by the splat of a figurative baby. Adding occasional translation only served to set the listener's zoobies, or teeth, on edge and oobivat, or kill, the pace and authenticity.

Later, as the ear adjusted, things improved, but only to leave you wondering if Burgess's original is all it's cracked up to be. Every imagined future is bound to pale besides reality when it eventually arrives, but some wear worse than others. It's symptomatic of Burgess's failure that he based Nadsat on Russian, apparently in the hope that it would not date. As things have turned out, it has dated extraordinarily badly - no one would now think that Russia could ever compete with the United States as a centre of teenage culture, and the very idea fixes A Clockwork Orange firmly in its Cold War context.

The same dualism blunts the novel's moral: in the person of Alex, the vicious teenage thug with the passion for Beethoven, Burgess projected a fairly clear-cut choice between moral freedom with all its attendant evils, and goodness achieved at the cost of individual will. He seems to have been unprepared for the cosy blandness that has overtaken civilisation - where Heaven and Hell is the title of a Radio 2 documentary about Joe Jackson, and where all the threat and beauty is soothed out of music by Brian Kay's leechlike tones. At least Kay in person is more tolerable than Petroc Trelawney, who last week spent Brian Kay's Sunday Morning speculating on what Brian might be up to on his holidays in New Zealand. Radio rarely inspires violence, but this came damn close.

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