A Clockwork Orange review: ‘unmistakable success’

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Angharad Phillips (Petra), Edward Wheatley (Dim) and Tim Blore (Alex)

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The seats inside Caedmon Hall were filled within minutes, inspiring great hopes for the execution of this incredibly controversial dystopic nightmare. Originally a novel by Anthony Burgess, it was later immortalized through a cinematic Stanley Kubrick adaptation. Hild Bede Theatre certainly had a task before them of not letting this heritage overwhelm and govern their work. It was a delight to experience a successful and surprisingly unique adaptation of this cult classic.

The plot is a retelling, in the protagonist’s words, of his days as a young ‘malchik’ indulging in ultra-violent nightly escapades with his ‘droogs’. Tim Blore, in his role as Alex, puts on a stunning and captivating performance, first as a leering and psychopathic criminal, then as a retching subject of scientific experimentation, and finally as an eighteen year old who looks to a future beyond his gang days.

It is the contrast between the senselessly violent and deranged Alex that the audience witnesses at the beginning of the play, and the Alex after the interval, who is fully-controlled by external forces, which through its presentation, effectively captured audience sympathy. A particularly powerful scene is one where Dr. Brodsky (Lily Morgan) looks on with relish at the projection of violent images as Alex tries to escape from his restraints. The use of the projector to show the audience a close-up of Alex’s eyes allowed us to sense his discomfort and horror without the explicit imagery of the state films being shown.

Rory Barnes shone as the prison chaplain. His characterization of the disillusioned and always slightly drunk man of God was consistently vibrant in its execution. The sense that he was never away from the pulpit even when in conversation with others greatly contributed to this.

The directorial choice to have the actors rotate between different roles, except for that of Alex, highlighted the play’s non-naturalistic elements and subtly helped the audience to focus on Alex. It also implicitly explored the notion of the mutability of one’s identity and really embodied that quality found in memory and the difference of connection the audience felt between Alex and the rest of the characters in the play.

It is to the actors’ great credit that they managed to hold the audience’s attention in such a large venue as Hild Bede’s Caedmon Hall. Indeed it was aptly chosen for this production, as its impersonal spaciousness, magnified in the audience’s eyes due to the relative sparse use of props, lent itself directly to the atmosphere of oppression permeating the play.

The arrangement of the set however was hindered by the clutter created by the props for the Korova Milk Bar which remained onstage throughout the play. As each consecutive scene warranted a change of props, the fact that those for the Korova Milk Bar remained, unintentionally distracted from the performance itself. However, the bloodied male torsos which were on each side of the stage throughout the entire play, gradually acquired a larger significance as they came to represent a symbolic fusion between art and violence, and on a larger scale, creation and destruction.

The set, the costumes and make-up of the actors harmoniously engendered an atmosphere of unease. In a dystopian imagination where extremes reign supreme, the dominant costume colours of black and white aptly symbolize this idea. Although the idea behind the costumes is not entirely original, since they are faintly reminiscent of those in the Kubrick adaptation, their execution is deserving of praise. Their outward simplicity did not detract from the actors’ performances and allowed for the varying range of motions required.

The play proved to be an unmistakable success. Apart from the occasional blunder over missed cues, there is little left for criticism. Particularly as the actors lost their initial nervousness found at the beginning of the performance, the play really fell into stride and inspired a real ‘horrorshow’ blend of emotions within the audience.

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