Wednesday, 10 April 2013

A Clockwork Orange, April 9, 2013 ***

By Anthony Burgess, by Action To The Word
Malthouse Theatre, April 6 to 21, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 6
Stars: ***

This review also published in Herald Sun in print or online on April 11. KH
Martin McCreadie ((L) and cast in A s Clockwork Orange
It’s a tall order to compete with the indelible image and scorching “ultra-violence” of Malcolm McDowell – as the brutal, frightening Alex – and his “droogs”, in Stanley Kubric’s cult film of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange.

Rather than adapting the movie, director-choreographer, Alexandra Spencer-Jones, with ten young, male actors, uses Burgess’s playscript that is based on his novella, and stylises the production by using dance to portray all aggressive action.

Although an interesting theatrical device, the choreography dilutes the pornography of violence at the core of Alex’s life, and the style overwhelms content, limiting the sense of menace in scenes of rape, torture and murder when the stage could be a dangerous place.

Alex (Martin McCreadie) is a dysfunctional teenager who uses “ultra-violence”– fuelled by testosterone and frustration – as entertainment, until he is imprisoned then subjected to an invasive, government sanctioned, psychological reconditioning and aversion therapy.

McCreadie is capable and intensely physical as Alex, capturing, through abstracted movement and muscularity, Alex’s mindless passion for violence and classical music.

But it is in the latter half that he is most effective, when portraying Alex’s despair and confusion after his treatment, when he is nauseated by the thought of violence and by the sound of his beloved Beethoven.

Burgess’s Anglo-Russian, adolescent slang called Nadstat, presages 21st century street-gang lingo and, blended with scattered Shakespearean vocabulary, it provides an inspired mode of communication designed to alienate outsiders and oldies.

Strangely, although this is a play about physical brutality told through movement, the most potent depiction of savagery is not through dance or visual imagery, but through words describing brutal scenes of concentration camps, war, torture and rape during Alex’s treatment.

Alex uses women as sex objects and punching bags but, with the cast of young men playing multiple roles including females, it is often difficult to discern when they are playing women, so the story morphs into a homoerotic tale about young, gay men.

Many characters become simple caricatures, the figures of power in government, prison and hospital are trivialised, and Burgess’s message about free will sounds preachy in the final moments.

The production lacks a sense of irony and misses the backhanded comedy that can trigger our horrified, guilty laugh at Alex’s viciousness, but it provides a new view of Burgess’s cult tale.

By Kate Herbert

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