An Orange worth biting into

The all-male cast of A Clockwork Orange does not strip the rapes and assaults of brutality.
The all-male cast of A Clockwork Orange does not strip the rapes and assaults of brutality.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

REVIEW / THEATRE

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

Action To The Word

Esplanade Theatre/ Wednesday

The stage is a riot of black and white and taunting flashes of orange, appropriate as there are rarely shades of grey in response to Anthony Burgess' 1962 classic novel, A Clockwork Orange, staged here according to the script written by the author.

One either revels in 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 a 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 one another, the unfettered frenzy stops parodying beauty and becomes beautiful, much like a shark feeding frenzy is riveting. Having only men on stage (the all-male cast take turns to be victim and aggressor) 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.

  • BOOK IT/A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (R18)

  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre

    WHEN: 8pm today and tomorrow, 7pm on Sunday

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

    INFO: Restricted to audiences aged 18 and above due to explicit content

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 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 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 out-of-bounds 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 of 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 which also failed 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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2015, with the headline 'An Orange worth biting into'. Print Edition | Subscribe