“What’s it going to be then eh?” Ultra violence, rape, drugs, and Lovely Ludwig Van. Action to the Word’s distilled A Clockwork Orange is a rampant orgy of homo-erotic savagery which overdoses on extremism and thrills with its brutality. It’s a real horror show.
Anthony Burgess’s dystopian and controversial 1960s novel about youth violence and growing up, has never seemed more relevant in this electrifying, visceral, stupefying stage production which opened on Thursday night at London’s Park Theatre.
Already a sensation at the Edinburgh Fringe this all-male version opens with a pumped-up teenage Alex (Jonno Davies), his muscles barely contained in a tight black tank, walking on stage with all the grace and finesse of a ballet dancer. He assumes second position, arms outstretched.
His droogs, Pete, Dim and Georgie, are behind him. Beethoven gets into his stride and the gang attacks another group of thugs, resulting in one being raped over a table with a broken milk-bottle by Alex.
This is A Clockwork Orange on a high. Whatever they put in the boys’ moloko plus (milk with a bit of an extra kick) at the Korova Milk Bar hits the mark as they embark on nightly rampages, mugging, beating and, ultimately, killing their elders.
Burgess’s book and iconic film are here condensed into 90-minutes of sweating, pulsating, frenzied, barbarism that is gracefully and elegantly executed by a cast of nine who are as light on their feet as they are quick with their fists.
The story was written at a time when Britain was just coming to grips with a new phenomenon, teenagers. Here was a novel which exploited the public’s fear of juvenile delinquency.
Set in the near future Burgess’s protagonist is Alex, a 15-year-old sociopath, who loves violence, classical music, and a nice glass of milk.
Eventually he goes too far and kills someone. In prison he undergoes an untested form of aversion therapy which cures him of his violence but leaves devastating – for him – side effects.
Davies, at 24, is obviously too old and is too well-developed to play a teen – although, objectifying him for just one moment, the first night audience were undoubtedly impressed with the hours he’s put in at the gym – but he pulls it off spectacularly well.
Bursting with bravura, the arrogance of youth, and athleticism, Davies makes an exemplary Alex, not only creating a physically engaging monster but also giving the audiences glimpses of the troubled boy within. It’s a nuanced, multi-layered performance considering its physicality.
The language takes a while to assimilate but it’s spoken with confidence and a certain poetic elegance by Alex and his droogs.
Burgess created Nadsat, a fictional street patois, which has bits of Cockney slang and a lot of Slavic influences and while, thankfully, it never caught on, we have today, particularly in inner cities, gangs speaking in their own versions to alienate their elders.
While, inevitably, Davies’ exhilerating performance dominates, he has superb support from his gang members – Sebastian Charles as the rebellious but rather thick Dim, Luke Baverstock as Georgie (both demonstrating a lightness of foot with a few pirouettes) and Tom Whitelock as Pete.
The remaining cast – Simon Cotton, Damien Hasson, Philip Honeywell, James Smoker and Will Stokes, take on a variety of roles to flesh out the story, which works surprisingly well without women and with a number of key scenes from the original book and film omitted.
Director Alexandra Spencer-Jones has created a turbo-charged, grotesque, darkly comic and menacing masterpiece for the 21st century. Not to be missed.
A Clockwork Orange runs at Park Theatre until March 18.
A Clockwork Orange
Dark, disturbing & ultra violent. Action to the Word’s electrifying production of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange is a real horror show.