a clockwork orange

‘A Clockwork Orange’ is a dystopian, satirical black comedy that was written in only three weeks by the 45 yrs. old, Manchester born playwright, Anthony Burgess (family name ‘Wilson’). Burgess wrote the play in Hove, Sussex – the peaceful, posh neighbour of Brighton – after being shocked by the changing youth. Burgess based the play’s juvenile delinquents’ behaviour on a bunch of American servicemen that beat up Lynne, his first wife.

The book title was an adaptation of a post-war Cockney expression, ‘as queer as a clockwork orange’; it was published in 1962, with the original script being strangely stored in Ontario. This classic appears in the Time Magazine’s list of ‘The 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century’, and it clocks in at number 87.

Warhol produced a film adaptation called ‘Vinyl’ in 1965. Burgess was disappointed with Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 ‘cult classic’ film adaptation, which was based upon the American publisher’s censored version – with the 21st Chapter removed. The author then adapted his original notorious story in full, into this 1987 stage play with the book’s real ending – not Kubrick’s.

In 1998 Bono and The Edge wrote a substandard musical version.

This courageous ‘Life on Hold’ independent theatre, graphic production – which is STRICTLY for adults – is being presented at the Broken Hill Hotel, 314 Albany Highway in Victoria Park on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7.30 pm until Friday 2nd November.

This 90-minute version, which has been further adapted from Burgess’s stage play by Connor Carlyle and Sarah Christiner (last year’s award-winning director), is skilfully presented ‘intimately in the round’, with – sadly I feel – some of Burgess’ tasteless topics having been modified.

Many thanks should go to the Broken Hill Hotel’s management for allowing this production to be staged. The massive, award-winning cast and crew have been chosen for their ability to let themselves go and not to stunt the performances. Nothing is worse than seeing a well-known and daring drama presented by a timid cast that lack the courage to go the distance, and so not giving the playwright’s work full credence.

This story aims not to promote violence in youth culture, but to show that even within the worst person, there is some love waiting to be released.

Scene: the near future in blue collar Oldham, where English society is suffering a subculture of extreme youth violence.

Set: with the ‘theatre’ being a large poolroom and bar within a busy hotel, there were bound to be some limitations and difficulties. The set comprised three daises, with a few large AV screens.

The props included a desk with typewriter, café seating, a wheelchair, medical devices and frightening looking weapons. Stage manager, Jarrod Buttery and his assistant Anna Head, who with the aid of the cast, were flawless in the almost instantaneous placing and removal of the props

The room is large and combined with the wild happenings in the bar next-door, the sound could be a bit of a challenge. With few reflective surfaces, the dialogue was lost at times and so precise enunciation is essential. The cast who were working in this environment for the first time (I saw the final rehearsal), gathered this and their delivery improved as the show went on. Sarah Christiner – as ‘Narrator Alex’ – had a headset which made a huge difference; but in general, the style of the show with so much action and so many cast members, fitting everyone with headsets would be impossible.

Sarah Christiner and Daniel Toomath have created a most impressive soundscape, with rumbling bass chords that seemed to have a built-in heartbeat that created a creepy and sinister undertone.

Benedict Chau’s AV design and Alex Lorian’s film worked well in creating a backdrop for the story’s multiple venues and outside locations.

Aaron Smith’s lighting design was complex and enhanced the ever-changing mood. The tech operators were Matt Hale, Benedict Chau and Josh McGee.

This synopsis may contain spoilers: but is intended to help with following the story line.

   In the Korova Milk Bar, is 18-year-old intelligent sociopath, Alex (Connor Carlyle – powerful and threatening). Dressed in a white shirt with white trousers and braces, Alex is drinking ‘milk-plus’ – a beverage consisting of milk, laced with the day’s drug of choice. With one eye laden with mascara and false eyelashes, he (‘he’ is powerfully played live on stage by Sarah Christiner) ‘humbly’ narrates his violent exploits.
  As he leaves the cafe with his droogs – ‘friends’ – Pete (Charlie Young), Georgie (David Heder) and Dim (Josh Harris) they carry out another opportunistic, random burst of ‘ultra-violence’ – unjustified violence – on a poor homeless, down and out (Rex Gray). Shortly after, Alex’s nemesis, Billy Boy (Braeden Caddy) arrives with his thugs, the BB droogs (Josh McGee, Guy Bourhis, Alec Fuderer, Jacob Lane) and a massive fight results.
      Injured, the droogs stagger to a nearby house and beg for help from the owner, a famous author, F. Alexander (A. J. Cheka). When he lets them in, his poor wife (Vanja Fischer) is attacked.
       Next morning, Alex fakes illness to his parents. His loving, pampering mother (Anna Head – very good) is worried, but his Pa (Leigh Hunter) is suspicious. They allow Alex to stay off school; however, Alex has an unexpected visit from his ‘post-corrective adviser’, P.R. Deltoid (Chris Thomas) a disinterested social worker assigned to keep Alex on the straight and narrow.
  The next morning, Alex’s greedy and ambitious second-in-command, Georgie, attempts to challenge Alex for leadership of the gang; but Alex slashes Dim’s hand for supporting Georgie. Then, in an attempt to win back credence, Alex takes them to the milk bar where he suggests they burgle an elderly lady, the weird ‘Cat Woman’ (Marie Skewes). After the robbery, armed with his bike chain, Dim hits out at Alex for the earlier wounding, then the gang run, leaving Alex who is arrested for murder.
Alex is sentenced to 14 years, but after two he has a job in the prison chapel, playing religious music – especially Beethoven. On learning of the new ‘Ludovico Technique’, developed by scientist Dr. Branom (Benedict Chau) and backed by The Minister of the Interior (Jarrod Buttery), the Prison Governor (Sam Rodwell) puts Alex up as a suitable candidate. Despite caring advice from ‘Charlie Chaplin’ the Prison Chaplain (Phil Barnett) who is very worried about Alex’s future health, Alex choses to go ahead and is assessed by psychologist, Dr. Brodsky (Carlos Sivalingham). He is passed to the Prison Warden (Christopher Kennedy) for transfer to the hospital, and supervision by psychiatric nurses (Alexandra White, Marie Skewes).
What will become of Alex and all of his droog mob? Can there ever be peace amongst the gangs?
Other parts were played by Jessica Brooke, James Buckland, Paul Cook, David Keep, Henri Ramonfosse and Johan Smit.

This is one of these plays that on hearing that some brave director had decided to put it on the stage, made me wince. There is a very large cast to handle, with a complex script containing strange dialogue for the cast to learn, violence and sex scenes. In the cinema these scenes can be stopped, edited and have makeup adjusted; but presented LIVE in a hotel, who would be mad enough to try such a mammoth task? Well Sarah Christiner – with the help of her assistant director, Phil Barnett – decided to give it a try, and has almost achieved the impossible.

The Oldham accents were a little variable, with one being Irish (?) but with the dialogue being partially in a mix of Gypsy, Slav and Russian-influenced slang called “Nadsat”, (the word is Russian for ‘teenager’) that was developed by Burgess to stop the youth slang allowing the play to become outdated.

All of the ‘older’ members of the cast are all highly experienced and gave first class performances. For some of the youths, this was their first show, and although they captured the characters very well, with the high drama required some of the delivery was a little weak – possibly further complicated because at times the actors were literally up against the audience. This was the final dress rehearsal, and although this production was brave (especially well done the women) and certainly worth seeing, I would love to see this show produced again, still directed by Sarah and Phil, but in a proper theatre with a rougher group of droogs, who will go just that touch further.

With no ‘wings’ and only one entry point, the cast’s entrances and exits had to be anticipated but still were slick.

The seating is limited, although there is standing room, so get your tickets in advance from ‘TAZ entertainment’ or ‘WhatsOn’ and be prepared for a warm welcome from the gatekeeper, Brigitta. The play is unrelenting, with minimal humour, but it is an experience that you will have rarely seen in the theatre.