"Man's a Creature of Juice."
by Francis Byrne for remotegoat on 24/10/10

Slavoj Zizek, in his book Violence, separates the idea into two areas; subjective (e.g. murder, rape, riots) and objective (e.g. the structures and rules that are imposed by a society.) The later - ingrained in the structure of our social fabric - is the type that Anthony Burgess is critiquing in A Clockwork Orange. It is the type of violence that, in this play, happens to Alex after he goes to prison and is 'cured', the type that he references as he beats an old lady, saying 'you built this world!' This powerful moment aside - where the paradox of Alex's intelligent aggression is shown - the 'ultraviolence' was almost incidental, not truly culturally embedded. It was slapstick and comic beyond dimension due to the initial thinness of characterisation of Alex and his 'droogs'.

For all his conventionalities - attitudes to family, friends - Alex is first of all a problematiser. He simultaneously causes shock and reflection. His mix of violence and intelligence, of baseness and musical taste is reflected by the Nadsat spoken, a mix of English and Russian which the play describes as the 'two dominant political languages'. This is the kind of hint at deeper comment that the audience should have been given more of. We don't really meet Alex the paradox until he's in prison, even then we just see him tossed around from scene to scene. Alex is whisked through the process of the system before we have time to empathise with him. I'd imagined him as a perverse Falstaff; charismatic, charming us and convincing us, with Shakespearian syntax, of the validity of his violent attitudes.

One problem with putting on A Clockwork Orange is that 50 years ago it was banned and wasn't acceptable to read. Now it's not banned, A-Level students study it and the film's very widely known. To focus the piece as a moral parable is worthy but the message of free choice needs to be made difficult for the audience to accept so that it challenges and has some weight behind it.

The narrative chronology of the book could've been challenged. What about Alex asserting the play's poetic final lines '...choice is free and seldom easy, that is what freedom means' at the start alongside the drug-fueled and carefree rape, robbery, knifings, kickings and blood? The cast could attack the systematic violence imposed by the theatre-society they're placed in, Alex's ego could have a new 'stage' to explore and play on or perhaps the whole piece could be set in a difficult political context like Cuba or Nigeria. These might be ways to generate friction between the parable's message and the audience's acceptance of it.

There were some stylistic touches - using canes for windows, the cast voicing police sirens - which worked nicely. The singing was very skilled - the unexpected fact that this production was a musical added a hint of carnival to the action but it clashed with the classical soundtrack and subtlety of Alex's thoughts. For me the whole piece was not reflective enough and the characters not given enough attention. Instead, ironically, the focus was on the subjective narrative violence instead of the book's real message.

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