Under the guidance of artistic director Alexandra Spencer-Jones, Action to the Word returning to the Edinburgh Fringe this year with their all male production of the Anthony Burgess novel, and while the venue is new, in one of the larger of the many spaces offered by the Pleasance, the production itself is largely unchanged, remaining bold, confrontational and inventive.
Led by Martin McCreadie’s mesmerising and uncontrollable Alexander DeLarge, the ensemble cast create the world with minimal set and props through daring physical theatre where violence and dance blend together against a soundtrack with the obvious lovely Ludwig Van Beethoven 5th Symphony updated with rock guitar or in the more faithful Moonlight Sonata, a moment of tenderness before the hyenas descend, but also the Scissor Sisters’ Comfortably Numb as he is prepared for the brainwashing of the Ludovico Technique and the Eurythmics’ Beethoven (I Love to Listen to) among others, with the surprising All You Need Is Now from Duran Duran reinforcing the immediacy of young Alex’s vicious life.
Betrayed by his droogs Dim, Pete and Georgie, Alex is captured by the police and imprisoned for murder, and in his desperation to get back on the streets as swiftly as possible, prisoner 6655321 manipulates the governor and visiting minister of the interior to be chosen as the test subject for an experimental method, unaware that it will render him into the eponymous clockwork orange as it imposes mechanical restrictions upon his responses to violence. With references to “a recent riot in London’s east end,” the story remains relevant, and this production is the perfect vehicle to bring it to a new audience. “We are interested in results. And with relieving the congestion in our prisons” could as easily have been written this week as a half century ago.
By staging with an all-male cast, it allows the performance to be graphic and explicit without invoking misogyny, to play with gender roles and raise any implicit homoerotic subtext to the fore as the men grapple with each other, fuelled by hormones and the drugs they conceal in their wholesome glasses of milk, disco beats and stereotypes as the peaked caps of New York police officers beat Alex with their nightsticks, as violent in their punishment as he is to his victims. “Police and criminals, terrorists and freedom fighters, all the same, violence is sewn into our fabric.”
In black and white costumes, with the occasional flash of orange, it channels much of the Kubrick film adaptation, though another surprising influence is Monty Python, with the few female characters played in the “pepperpot” Python style, and, to quote the Piranha Brothers sketch from that show, the presence of an “impeccably choreographed rape scene.” The promotional material features the 2011 cast, an action disingenuous to the audience and unfair to the current performers. While excellent, the new ensemble misses Tom Christian’s presence as a challenge to McCreadie’s dominance, and it also suffers from the relocation to a wider stage, as the confines of last year’s venue brought the audience right to the cusp of the action on all sides, whereas this year’s performance is directed primarily towards those in the centre seats.
A Clockwork Orange continues until Sunday 26th August before moving to The Old Market, Brighton in September