A juicy Clockwork Orange

A scene from A Clockwork Orange.
A scene from A Clockwork Orange.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

A Clockwork Orange

Action to the Word

Esplanade Theatre/ Nov 4

The stage is a riot of black and white and taunting flashes of orange, appropriately since there are rarely shades of grey in response to Anthony Burgess' 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange, staged here according to the script written by the author. One either revels with or is repulsed by sadistic 15-year-old protagonist Alex and his "ultraviolent" band of Droogs as they rob and ravage their way through the streets on one wild night capped by murder and a prison term for the leader.

British troupe Action To The Word is at its best in interpreting these scenes of senseless violence, turning them through dance steps and beautifully blocked blows into energetic, engaging physical performance. As Alex (played by Jonno Davies) and his comrades bite, snarl and tear at each other, the all-male cast taking it in turns to be victim and aggressor, the unfettered frenzy stops parodying beauty and becomes beautiful, much like a shark feeding frenzy is riveting. Having only men on stage does not strip the rapes or assaults of brutality, in fact it makes the viewer more conscious, but after a while the mind is divorced from the actual blood in the water and simply appreciates the swirling eddies.

It is mesmerising to see the actors strip on stage, literally and metaphorically, the strategic removal of clothes a visual symbol of the raw emotions fuelled by teenage testosterone which Burgess both glorifies and reviles at the same time.

The staging by director Alexandra Spencer-Jones is vibrant and efficient. Costumes suspended from wires allow quick changes and provide a backdrop that blends into a courtroom scene, a violent prison yard and even the milk bar where the Droogs glug the seemingly innocent beverage while conversing in Nadsat, Russian-English slang spoken either in rap rhythms recollecting Beethoven symphonies or declaimed in a manner that reveals the troupe's primary allegiance to the works of Shakespeare.

The crux of A Clockwork Orange is the question of whether or not free will is worth protecting. One does not need to sympathise with Alex to be disturbed by his chemical transformation at government hands into a man whose reactions are no longer his own. Members of a society that has OB markers to govern civilised discourse might agree with the need to remove violent tendencies in one for the safety of many, but taking away the frenzy also removes Alex's only civilised passion, his love for music.

In his 1971 film based on the novel, Stanley Kubrick ended with the reversal of Alex's "cure" and a government job offer that hints that the teen's psychopathic tendencies might find new official means of release. Spencer-Jones sticks to Burgess' script and offers a scene in which Alex "grows up" and gives up his gangster tendencies out of boredom - a scene so unconvincing that it was apparently edited out of the American release of the original novel and also fails on stage. Yet this is the only unnatural clockwork at the heart of an otherwise juicy production which exists flamboyantly between the black and white shades of accepted morality.

akshitan@sph.com.sg

book it

A Clockwork Orange (R18)

Where: Esplanade Theatre

When: Nov 5-7, 8pm; Nov 8, 7pm

Admission: $68, $88, $108, $118, $128 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg)

Info: Explicit content. Restricted to audiences aged 18 and above