Anthony Burgess’ novel A Clockwork Orange was controversial to say the least when it was published in 1962, with an equally controversial film adaptation from Stanley Kubrick following nine years later. Both were an expression of the ultra-violence associated with the character of the psychopathic young male, set in an almost unrecognisable 1970s dystopia. Burgess and Kubrick both explored morality, crime and punishment in a way that shook the moral fibre of the public to its core.
Scruffy Mutt Theatre have taken this infamous story and, while keeping with the same themes, completely change the dynamic. They do this in two ways. Firstly, they move the story from around forty years ago to the present day. Secondly, and most strikingly, the entire cast is female – making use of the gender-neutral nature of the protagonist’s name, Alex.
The characters are all recognisable from the original story, but this is suddenly no longer a story about the violent mean streak stereotypically found in riotous young men. When Alex is addressing his room of admirers, he talks to his “brothers and sisters” as opposed to just his ‘brothers’, helping to detach the horrors in this play from any concrete notions of masculinity. It is a demonstration of the violence that can be present in the human condition regardless of being a man or woman, which helps to make the story a somewhat more interesting exploration of behaviour.
The young cast all distinguish themselves, clearly heard over the crashing and unsettling score. This is particularly important for young Alex, since the whole play is set in flashback with her recounting the story to an eager audience. Those cast members who swap between characters do so effectively, and the relationships between the personalities on the stage are all clear and effectively developed.
There are moments that the play struggles to prove properly shocking – the assault on the old man is nowhere near as dramatic as it should be. That being said, there is one moment where the drama and the shock value are turned up to another level. This is when the Ludovico Technique for reforming Alex is brought to the stage in such a way that makes it frighteningly real. The flickering lights are combined with the violent images Alex sees projected onto the back curtain, and the audience have to watch him writhe in terror as he sits in the chair. Combined with another section of terrifying scoring, those watching are left permanently scarred by what Alex is put through to make him a ‘good citizen’. It is the highlight of the play.
This is A Clockwork Orange brought into the 21st century, an achievement resulting from a complete shift in the time and dynamics of the story. Scruffy Mutt Theatre have changed the story to make it more contemporary, challenging and interesting. While it may not match the drama of the film adaption or the literary genius of the book, what such a young cast achieve with a story as challenging as this is frankly remarkable.
A Clockwork Orange
The Space on Niddry Street (Venue 9)
Photo credit: Scruffy Mutt Theatre