Arcola Theatre, London
“What’s it going to be, then, eh?” - The show’s tagline poses a rather apt question for any adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. The modern classic is best known in the following forms: book, film and a play with music. So, upon entering the Arcola, you can’t help but wonder what it is you are about to see.
Under the direction of Paul Davies, the Welsh theatre company Volcano present a different take on A Clockwork Orange. Linked more closely to Burgess’ novella than to Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film, we see the five actors (Paul Coldrick, Kyle Edward-Hubbard, Alex Moran, Mairi Philips and Billy Rayner) split the role of the narrator Alex whilst also taking on the roles of external narrators. It is the fragmented retelling of the story that manages to maintain a sense of brutality without committing the acts onstage. The infamous rape scene appears as a simulation upon a Barbie doll by one Alex, whilst two others stand behind attacking two more dolls with scissors until they are no more than a scattering of plastic and hair strewn over the stage.
It is a testament to Catherine Bennett’s movement direction that not one of the violent acts appears contrived. We see all five actors diving to the floor and flailing around as if being beaten to within an inch of their lives, yet we remain utterly convinced (and disturbed) by the action onstage.
The intimate nature of the Arcola allows the audience to never be far from this violence. The sweet, zesty smell becomes almost unbearable as the actors take brutish bites out of oranges. As gurgling Rayner climaxes after aggressively masturbating to classical music, his spit reaches the unfortunate front row, and as each actor turns their angry stare outwards, you can’t help but look away from their gaze.
In a cast of five, it’s near impossible to signal out the best, which probably reflects well on the aim of the piece. It is less of a traditional narrative but more of a commentary on “ultraviolence” and the consequent effects on youth culture and society. Their skill is equally as obvious in the supporting roles, with Phillips and Coldrick as Alex’s parents, Moran makes a particularly convincing cat and Edward-Hubbard and Rayner’s chilling monotonous coupling as they antagonise the ‘cured’ Alex is nothing short of brilliance. The vibrancy of the acting is only heightened by the contrast with Gundy Sigurdar’s harsh, monochrome set design, with its wall of television screens and, save a few boxes and props, not much else.
The voices of the performance are at times a little confused. Whilst the decision to include different accented actors suggests a sense of universality, as the actors leap from portraying Alex, to narration, to stepping out of the performance altogether, it is occasionally hard to keep up with them.
Although prior knowledge of the story is probably a help, this production is a gritty, disturbingly humorous and innovative take on a wonderfully “ultraviolent” tale.