Ipswich: All the young Droogs... A Clockwork Orange comes to New Wolsey Studio

Action To The Word's production of A Clockwork Orange, at the New Wolsey Studio. Picture: Simon Kane

Action To The Word's production of A Clockwork Orange, at the New Wolsey Studio. Picture: Simon Kane - Credit: Archant

More than 50 years have passed since Anthony Burgess introduced us to Alex DeLarge and his Droogs’ battle against the tedium of adolescence. A tale of orgiastic ultra-violence and sexuality, A Clockwork Orange remains as terrifyingly relevant today.

Action To The Word's production of A Clockwork Orange, at the New Wolsey Studio. Picture: Simon Kane

Action To The Word's production of A Clockwork Orange, at the New Wolsey Studio. Picture: Simon Kane - Credit: Archant

“As long as you’ve a society that isn’t happy with its government, which will be forever, the book will always make sense,” says director Alexandra Spencer-Jones, who brings Action To The Word’s take on the classic book to Ipswich’s New Wolsey Studio on September 27-28.

“When we had the show at the Edinburgh Festival in 2011, when the riots were happening in London, audience members thought we’d added that that day because of what was happening on the news; they were giggling because it was so relevant.

“In the 1960s, the book and the play has Dr Brodsky showing Alex images of a riot in London’s East End while he’s torturing him and exposing him to the Ludovico treatment. Watching that... it was one of the strangest theatrical experiences of my life so far, seeing art literally imitating life.”

Presented by Glynis Henderson Productions, this version is a testosterone-filled physical theatre horror show, sucking you into Manchester’s underworld in all its glass-edged nastiness.

Alexandra is incredibly proud of the all-male production which sees one actor playing Alex and the remaining nine sharing 74 parts as the audience is catapulted non-stop into Alex’s world over the next hour-and-a-half via words, as much music as there is text and dance theatre.

“I’m blessed with my troupe, they’re as much like wrestlers as they are ballet dancers as they are actors...,” she says.

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Very loyal to the book, the show’s enjoyed a lot of press about being more faithful to the book than any other theatre, literary or film interpretation.

“It’s highly flattering because the book’s phenomenal,” Alexandra says of Clockwork. “It’s quite an exciting challenge for me as a director because the (1971 Stanley Kubrick) film heavily relies on asceticism and really doesn’t use the text of the book which goes some way to explain why Burgess hated the film so much.

“What the film does do, which I love, is draw you into the glamour of Alex... the exciting thing for me was to find my own medium for that. I think we’ve got a very strong aesthetic but we use a very simple staging, we don’t really use a set, we don’t have costumes as such.”

The idea for this version, believe it or not, came out of a production of Romeo and Juliet.

“It had a very strange genesis,” she laughs. “We’re a mainly Shakespearean company and I work with a lot of blokes. I was doing this very strange, site specific production and I was spending quite a lot of time with male actors because you’ve only got a couple of girls in the company. I found myself becoming interested in testosterone and male behaviour on stage.

“Romeo and Juliet is so much about volatility, people fighting, men having to prove their worth as men... it was lovely to see a nice boy go bad in Romeo, it’s nice to see a bad boy go good in Clockwork. Yeah, on paper (it’s quite a leap from Romeo and Juliet to A Clockwork Orange) but thematically, weirdly, there’s a lot of stuff that crosses over.”

Another challenge was the violence. Not the gentlest of tales, while shocking for its time, Alexandra says current video games and the gore porn culture of films like Hostel and Saw have robbed us our ability to be shocked by anything.

“Shocking for shocking’s sake is not what Burgess was doing and certainly not what we’re doing. What I find scary about A Clockwork Orange isn’t just Alex’s ability to do whatever he wants to whoever he wants... actually, the only murder that takes place is unintentional in the play.

“Alex in our production rapes a man. He also has a relationship with a woman in our production and a relationship with a man. He doesn’t think like that he’s a bit out the box. He concerns himself with one thing and one thing only - that’s power, that’s the important thing.”

As an audience, she says our minds are invariably more violent and screwed up than a writer can portray because we fill it with our own version of horror.

“Alex says things like ‘what happens that day, oh my brothers I can’t say but I’m sure you can imagine’. So you fill in those gaps and my big challenge as a female really was to make sure I did that violence justice.

“In the 1960s, the rape was incredibly shocking, we have to find ways to continue that outrage without being gratuitous while remaining very genuine to the text. In my production, the audience sees what Alex sees. For example, the rape takes place in the middle of a 1980s pop video. We see the world through his eyes and it’s incredibly subversive and dangerous.

“There are a couple of different major incidents in the play... you see Alex being tortured, going into jail, fighting the Billy Boy gang... I’ve used music and creative movement to show the world the way Alex sees it. We’re never safe as an audience because of his huge creative mind which jumps around... he’s a genius, that’s why I think it’s always been considered a really dangerous piece of literature because you do love him by the end.”

Often disappointed by life, let down by teachers, social workers, his family, you get a hint of why Alex may be so disaffected.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m sounding incredibly sympathetic towards him and that’s part of directing him... the moment you start directing that role as a villain what you get is something arch and that’s not quite right.

“I think for me that’s the real achievement of Burgess, any halloween will testify to this because you’ve got young people dressed up as Alex; if they thought he was Hitler they wouldn’t bother would they,” she laughs. “The novel takes great pains to draw you in so at the end, when he says it was just part of growing up we go ‘oh God, yeah, okay’. Then, about an hour later, after we’ve left the theatre, we go ‘oh my God, I’ve been sympathising with a rapist’.”

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