Pros: In this small venue the shocking happenings of this play occur within reaching distance, making it all the more chilling.
Cons: Not for the light-hearted, and I did wish they had laid rugs off stage as the squeaking of the cast moving around behind the curtains was a little distracting.
A local community arts centre seems the perfect location for an Oxford student production of A Clockwork Orange the play. Just uttering the name of this well-known book and film will provoke surprise that firstly this is now a play and secondly you feel the need to see it.
It is a title that people of a certain age will instantly recognise, although it is surprising how many have never actually seen the Stanley Kubrick film that made it infamous. Though the film occupies more space in our cultural memory, tonight’s play is based more on the original Anthony Burgess book and the subsequent script he wrote for stage performances.
For those either too young, or for those who have had their head buried in the sand all their life, A Clockwork Orange is set in a dystopian land where violence is prevalent; gangs roam the streets committing “Ultra-violence” and classical is the music of choice. It’s a story that holds many similarities to Orwell’s 1984, with overtures of Communism everywhere, not least in the language the youths use, incorporating aspects of Russian and English to mock Cockney rhyming slang. Alex, played by the very charismatic Gerard Krasnopolski, is gang leader of the Droogs. They’ve no aversion to mindless beatings, something that is displayed well in the opening half, including one finely choreographed scene of a gang collision.
The story turns though as Alex is arrested and finds himself in prison, consequently agreeing to undergo “conditioning” in order to be freed. So iconic and unforgettable is the conditioning scene in the film that trying to replicate it on stage would be a disaster. Thankfully this reimagining for the stage grants it a new, and very unsettling, life. Rather than using visual effects, instead an oral assault on the mind portrays the horrors that the retrained Alex has to endure to turn him against his violent ways.
Whilst this is a student production, to call it so risks belittling the efforts that have clearly gone into putting this play together. An intense few weeks of rehearsals, including apparently seven hours choreographing the gang fight scene, shows the dedication that has gone into this. The horrors that made the film remarkable remain here, albeit more restrained as a play could never repeat certain scenes from the film. Even so there is enough here to disturb, something that will not be a surprise to those familiar with the book or film, but something newcomers may want to consider.
It seems right that a student performance should come to Barnes’ Old Sorting Office. It’s a venue that is clearly trying to bring something different to the area. It feels local and welcoming. Even the signs advertising the play groups and the arts class give the place a feel of being part of the community. It’s a brave play that deserved its full house, and hopefully has the locals talking and coming back to witness whatever comes next here.
Author: Anthony Burgess
Director: Jonny Danciger
Producer: John Paul
Booking Information: 24 September 2016
Box Office: 020 8873 9885
Booking Link: http://www.osoarts.org.uk/