A Clockwork Orange

"A Clockwork Orange"
Martin McCreadie as Alex. Photo: Simon Kane.

York Theatre, April 24, 2013

Appalled by Stanley Kubrick’s graphic film version Anthony Burgess belatedly adapted his novel A Clockwork Orange himself, but for the stage, complete with songs. This stunning production by Britain’s Action To The Word company dispenses with Burgess’s music, but otherwise stays true to a text that hugs the novel’s intent, unlike the infamous film.

Echoes of Steven Berkoff’s work rebound from the production’s stylisation, choreographed action and mimed violence (with its consequent authentic venom). Director Alexandra Spencer-Jones heightens the sense of ritual with dance elements and held tableaux, arriving at a physical vocabulary to counterpoint Burgess’s invented “nadsat” slang that dominates the dialogue of Alex and his droogs.

Martin McCreadie commands the stage as Alex in a performance that grabs you by the throat and does not release you for 90 minutes. It bristles with such physical menace as makes you feel the action could suddenly spill off the stage into a cowering audience.

Despite his disquieting pale eyes and explosive voice there is just enough to sympathise with or even like in McCreadie’s characterisation as to make the play function as Burgess intended. When Alex is brainwashed into finding violence repugnant Burgess wanted us to change allegiance; to find the state now just as evil as Alex and his droogs had been as they punched, kicked, raped and knifed their way across the nameless, futuristic city.

The other nine match actors are credible matches for McCreadie’s intensity and virtuosity, with Stephen Spencer’s Dim a particular tour de force. The all-male cast makes for some disconcerting sexual ambiguities when women are depicted (as was the case on the Elizabethan stage).

The stage is empty but for props, and neither Spencer-Jones’s choice of thumping incidental music – including Alex’s beloved Beethoven – nor James Baggaley’s superb lighting dilute the focus on these riveting performances in a production begging to be seen a second time. You won’t see the likes of this from our naturalism-obsessed companies.

Until May 5.