What’s it going to be then, eh? Doing a brand new production of A Clockwork Orange is always going to be problematic. Visually do you go with the iconic – the one false eyelash; the Doc Martens boots; the braces; the bowler hat? And even if you’re not going to go with these iconic ingredients – you certainly have to suggest some elements of British yob culture. The boots – surely? Essential for employing a bit of the old ultra. Well – slooshy well, my droogs: I’ve seen a few stage productions of A Clockwork Orange over the years and while they always crave to be original there’s no escaping the big bolshy elephant in the room that is the Stanley Kubrick film.
Of course these productions have all been British and performed in English/Nadsat. British being the key here. In the original book Anthony Burgess captured the whole Anglo-Saxon mixed with Celtic and Viking mentality of being in a gang and looking for a fight. Nothing much has changed over the years and the old ultra-violence is indelibly inked on our psyche so no wonder we Brits are good at portraying it artistically.
So can the land of music, art, beauty and general gorgeosity lower itself into the depths of a very typically British hell? Oh yes, yes, yes my little droogies!
First off – the visuals: this production doesn’t take the easy copycat route. Instead of the hard carapace of the original uniform as per the book/film we’re presented with Alex and his droogs in stylish Italian suits and soft slip-on shoes. They also wear pieces of shaggy fur which suggest their animalistic tendencies and give a promise of the carnage that will ensue. In place of the maskies the droogs put on pairs of spectacles and just before the ultra starts they check their cuffs in true dandy fashion. These devices are simple, effective and manage to capture something of the spirit of the image-obsessed delinquents of the original book and as well as being so typically Italian. Very clever.
The rest of the staging is staggeringly well done. There’s a general black/white/acid yellow (orange would have been too obvious) colour scheme which lends an air of danger and edginess like having lemon juice dripped into your eyes which (like Alex) you can’t close as you remain fascinated and horrified at the same time.
So what of the iconic (there’s no getting away from that word… ) set-pieces? The Ludovico treatment/torture scene is probably the most striking and is used as the opening scene as well as taking its place later on in the story. Bolts of electrical energy shot down from above into Alex’s head in imagery that’s reminiscent of Frankenstein which is a neat little nod re his becoming the automaton of the title. Just as effective though is the notorious rape scene – done in slow-motion – which is chilling and sickening – as it should be. The setting – the ‘Home’ residence of the gang’s victims – is a sterile glass box with minimalist furniture which is probably the one image most similar to the film. However the whole idea of moving the box towards the audience is a genius move making us watch in horror (echoing Alex’s words: ‘viddy well’).
The music is wonderfully effective as well. Ludwig’s glorious Ninth is put to good – and integral – use. But there is also some marvellous original material – for example when Alex returns home after his treatment there’s a gloriously queasy soundtrack that’s paired with the visual image of an opaque shutter being brought down at the front of the stage. It reflects beautifully his alienation and bewilderment and like so much of this extraordinary staging is marvelously imagined and executed.
Okay – I’ve raved on enough about the staging – maybe because as my grasp of the Italian language is so woeful I have to depend on the sensory experience. But excellent performances transcend language barriers and that’s what you get from this stellar cast – particularly from Daniele Russo as Alex.
I mentioned before A Clockwork Orange being essentially a British construct and Anthony Burgess was a very British author. But we have to remember he was also a lapsed Catholic and lived in Rome for some time. He also resented that this notorious work was what he was best remembered for. Free will, religion and what makes us human were the important themes which informed his work. They are there in A Clockwork Orange but down the years they have been swamped by the imagery of the Kubrick film. As well as the striking images this production also has the important themes – Burgess would have been impressed.