It seems incredible that it’s taken 30 years for Anthony Burgess’s own live version of his best-known work to be brought to the stage.
Because the author and composer’s vision of A Clockwork Orange as a ‘play with music’ seems a very natural way of telling what is admittedly anything but a natural story.
But here it is, finally, Burgess-meets-Beethoven-meets-music hall, played by percussionist Peter Mitchell and sung with rhythmic and harmonic gusto by the Everyman Rep company.
George Caple, shorn of his usual luxuriant locks, plays Alex, the quick-witted, Ludwig-loving sociopathic young ringmaster of the gang of droogs who converse in poetic Nadsat patois and delight in anarchic acts of ‘ultraviolence’.
Caple is a very watchable anti-hero – your eyes seek him out wherever he might be on stage (and he’s rarely off it), while the ensemble around him shrug on a rapidly changing series of roles, from gang members and gang victims to police, prisoners, and a rather bizarre appearance for Jimmy Savile.
Among them is Richard Bremmer who pops up as a tracksuit-wearing social worker, cheesy crooner, and a booze-swilling prison chaplain in grubby surplus who turns out to be the only character concerned about Alex’s welfare and the moral dilemma posed by his 'rehabilitation'.
George Caple as Alex. Photos by Mark Brenner
The action unfolds on Molly Lacey Davies and Jocelyn Meall’s very striking set, a metal cube with a pair of trap doors beneath – one hiding stairs on which the actors enter, the other an inflatable slide on which the actors depart each scene.
It serves as an effective backdrop for some visually arresting moments, not least Alex’s ordeal as a guinea pig for the Ludovico technique, a form of tortuous aversion therapy which aims to ‘cure’ the teenager’s violent nature but leaves him sick at the sound of his beloved Beethoven to boot.
And yet at the moment sections of the action feel somewhat underpowered, particularly the key opening scene in which the droogs mete out their indiscriminate ultraviolence, targeting a series of innocent bystanders for kicks. Literally.
It should be shocking, it should be visceral, the sheer brutal drama of it should make you feel inexplicably excited and yet utterly repelled by that emotion at the same time.
Director Nick Bagnall has obviously given much thought to how to tackle the most unsavoury parts of the plot, and he and choreographer Etta Murfitt have created a stylised choreographic portrayal of the beatings and violent rapes Burgess describes, hinting at rather than explicitly showing the worst excesses.
But the result is that rather than the story exploding on to the stage in all its awful brutality, it ends up feeling only mildly menacing.