Theatre review - A Clockwork Orange

Anthony Burgess had several reservations about Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of his 1962 dystopian novella, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, not least that it crucially ignored the main character’s rejection of violence as he enters adulthood. To deter any future mangling of his work, in 1986 Burgess wrote his own stage version with music.

Alexandra Spencer-Jones’ high-octane production breathes fresh fire into this seminal tale of disaffected youth. Alex and his savage gang of “droogs” terrorise their local streets. They use a particular Russian-influenced slang called Nadsat as they carry out their acts of brutality, muggings and gang rape. After a burglary goes wrong, Alex winds up with a prison sentence for murder. Here, he is offered early release if he undergoes an experimental behaviour-modification treatment which reconditions him to feel physically sick at the thought of violence.

It may be fifty years old, but A CLOCKWORK ORANGE has lost none of it power. Burgess perfectly captures the chaos of adolescence; the simmering resentments that could erupt at any moment into mindless violence. Given Britain’s riots last year, this theme of teenage alienation is particularly resonant. The questions Burgess raised about free will, state control and “governmental retribution”, are as relevant as ever.

Spencer-Jones adds her own innovations to the mix. Her fast-paced production uses a range of music from the 1960s to the present day, including such club classics as Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Relax. The all-male cast strut around in tight black trousers and vests adding a layer of homoeroticism. The action is played out on an almost bare stage, allowing for highly stylised, physical performances.

Martin McCreadie gives an award-winning turn as Alex. His eyes glitter with psychopathic fervour, his veins stand out and his sinews visibly throb during moments of acute emotion.

Astonishingly, this marks both McCreadie and Spencer-Jones’s professional London debuts.

Do not miss.

Running at Soho Theatre until Saturday 05 January 2013