SINGAPORE - Anthony Burgess' dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange will be given a fresh twist in a Malay stage adaptation by Teater Ekamatra.
The play, which runs at the Esplanade theatre studio from Wednesday (Sept 25) to Sunday (Sept 29), unfolds in an unspecified society that could well be near-future Singapore.
Burgess' cult classic was published in 1962 and adapted into a controversial Stanley Kubrick film less than a decade later. Set in a society with a youth subculture of extreme violence, its sociopathic narrator, Alex, leads a gang of teenage hooligans and is later subjected to the state's attempts to "treat" him.
Teater Ekamatra's play, which has been adapted by Zulfadli "Big" Rashid, is directed by Noor Effendy Ibrahim and stars Rizman Putra as the teenage delinquent "Al".
The action will unfold on a cross-shaped stage surrounded by clusters of audience members - drawing on the idea of the panopticon, a circular prison with a central well from which inmates can be observed. The play might feel at once familiar and strange: the Russian-influenced "Nadsat" slang of Burgess' novel has been replaced with a curious mishmash of street and literary Malay. And instead of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Al listens to keroncong music.
"The thing that stood out for us (in the original) was the language, Nadsat," says Teater Ekamatra's artistic director Mohd Fared Jainal.
"It didn't feel fabricated - it was something that could exist fluidly in that world. From day one, the language has been the main thing - how Burgess managed to do it his way, and how we can do it our way."
In their adaptation, certain phrases sound comprehensible, yet slightly "off". The phrase "minta ampun" ("excuse me"), for example, has been transformed into the seldom-used noun "ampunan".
Actor Rizman, 41, who watched the Kubrick film when he was a student, says that working on the play has been a challenge. The violence - the slapping, spitting and hurling of insults - "gets to you" after a while. Crawling under Al's skin, he adds, has been "like trying to crack a puzzle. He is an extreme version of all of us".
BOOK IT / A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
WHERE: Esplanade Theatre Studio, Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay, 1 Esplanade Drive
WHEN: Thursday (Sept 26) to Sunday (Sept 29), 8pm; with additional 3pm show on Saturday and Sunday; Friday's show is sold out.
ADMISSION: $35 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg)
INFO: Visit sistic.com.sg/events/orange0919
The play is performed in Malay with English subtitles
Staging A Clockwork Orange in Malay might seem particularly apt, given how the title itself is a pun on the word "orang", the Malay word for a person. (Burgess was born in Britain, but spent several years as a teacher and education officer in Malaya and Brunei).
Dramaturg Nazry Bahrawi, a senior lecturer at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, meanwhile says that there may be parallels between the then-contemporary subculture of England and the punk subculture popular among Malay youth in Singapore.
Artistic director Fared thinks the play will provoke strong reactions.
"People will either hate it or love it. I hope we have done justice to the work."