A Clockwork Orange publicity image
Theatre Royal, Stratford East
Where: Outer London
14 September 2011 WOS Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews When Anthony Burgess took A Clockwork Orange to US publishers, he was told that American readers would not be convinced by the novel's final chapter of redemption and hope and that it should therefore be cut from the text. It did not reappear in US editions until 1986 and it was this darker version of the story that Stanley Kubrick used as the basis for his 1971 film.
This new stage adaptation, however, with libretto by Ed DuRanté and music by
Fred Carl, takes inspiration from the novel's original ending, making Alex, the show's sociopathic anti-hero, ultimately see the error of his ways and renounce the violent code by which he has lived his life.
Alex and his gang – dubbed “droogs” in the book but referred to as “ninjas” in this version, just one example of how DuRanté has subtly and effectively updated the anarchic language of the book to fit modern youth culture – are menaces to society. They intimidate, rob and attack for their own entertainment, and have no qualms about picking on even the weakest of individuals. Alex seems invincible, until a power struggle leads to a set-up that sees Alex arrested, charged and imprisoned for murder. Desperate to escape his indefinite prison term, he undergoes a controversial medical treatment that will make him incapable of committing evil acts, and is freed. The prison chaplain’s warning that life as a “clockwork orange” – or unnatural being – will be unliveable, however, proves only too prescient, and ultimately, through various plot twists, Alex is led to the realisation that he must change his ways.
Kubrick reportedly decided not to include the novel's final chapter in his film because he felt it was unconvincing and inconsistent with the rest of the story. Watching director
Dawn Reid's otherwise entertaining production, you can see his point. Ashley Hunter is captivating as Alex, but the character's swift turnaround from sadist to good guy is too big an ask, even for a performer of Hunter's obvious talents. This version may be more true in its message to the one that Burgess intended than the Kubrick film, but after the darkness and humour of the majority of the show, the answers its ending offers feel trite and undercooked.
Flaws of plotting aside, Carl's jazz and funk-inspired score is thrilling to listen to, particularly in those moments when fragments of music echo and punctuate the violence and chaos of the story. Not all the numbers are entirely persuasive – the score is at its best when steering clear of traditional musical theatre style songs – but there's enough ambition and risk-taking here to make us feel that we're witnessing something truly original.
- by Jo Caird Related Content
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