Audiences at Barricade’s production of A Clockwork Orange are greeted by a warning along these lines:
‘Audience members should be made aware that the following production contains use of strobe lighting. It also contains murder, violence, sexual violence, drug use and suicide. Enjoy the show.’
There was scattered, uneasy laughter at this announcement. Those familiar with the story did not quite know how director Jonny Dancinger was going to present the many disturbing and graphic scenes found in the book and subsequent film. Those who were seeing the story told for the first time were suddenly unsure as to what they had bought a ticket for.
A Clockwork Orange follows Alex, played by Gerard Krasnopolski, as he commits awful crimes with his ‘droogs’, goes to prison, is ‘conditioned’ to be repulsed by violence, attempts to commit suicide, and finally ‘grows up’. The novel is primarily written in nadsat — a slang dialect blending Russian and English — meaning that violent crime is described in an oblique and sometimes distancing way. A punch becomes a ‘tolchock’, sex becomes ‘the old in-out-in-out’. However by adapting this for the stage, Dancinger and producer John Paul had to choose whether to portray these events with more than just references. They opted for on-stage depictions, and this was achieved for the most part successfully. A few very obviously fake punches were overshadowed by one stunningly choreographed fight scene in the first few minutes, and one very real sounding slap in the second act. The scenes in which Alex is forced to watch films of ‘ultraviolence’ were conveyed through a TV emitting strobe lighting, with the scientist Brodsky, played by Natalie Lauren, narrating the horrors of Alex’s acts while Beethoven (Alex’s favourite composer) was played at a high volume. Here, they chose to emulate the sickness which Alex is supposed to be feeling in that moment through the lighting design — rather than showing the violent acts themselves, the lighting was manipulated so that it was nauseating to watch in itself.
The cast were well-rehearsed following a run in London over the summer, and the production lacked any of the mishaps which one might expect from a student production, with the only noticeable errors being minor line-slips which were easily glossed over. Both Natalie Lauren’s and Annie Hayter’s performances as Brodsky and Minister were chilling, and Cameron Spain’s performance as Chaplain was thought-provoking. His ability to fill the stage with expressive speeches about free will, and then in the next breath dismiss them, brought a little comic relief whilst dragging the plot away from facing the problem of freedom of choice head on. Gerard Krasnopolski’s ability to perform Alex’s many demeanours — a crime-loving youth, a faux-pious prison inmate, and a tortured victim — was masterful.
Dancinger’s choice to use gender-blind casting in this production shifted the emphasis slightly away from ideas of masculine identity and focused them instead on youth culture, creating a rift between young and old. The production featured use of nadsat by the criminal youths, which confused some audience members at first, but seemed essential in conveying the rift between young and old. Acts of violence, including sexual violence, were committed by a cast of all genders, making it clear that violence is not gender-specific. To an audience not much older than Alex and his ‘droogs’, at a time where there seems to be a political age divide in this country, this directorial decision seems well made.
The production was an assault on the senses, with some scenes leaving the audience breathless and horrified. Despite — or perhaps because of — the unrelenting violence, there is something gripping about this production which makes it well worth watching.
A Clockwork Orange is showing at the Keble O’Reilly from 11-16th October. For tickets and more information, please visit https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/barricadearts.