Taking a step back from the graphically violent nature of Stanley Kubrick’s film A Clockwork Orange, Volcano Theatre Company present a highly physical, stylised and thought-provoking production of the Anthony Burgess 1962 novel, set a ‘short time’ in the future.
Set design by Gudny Sigurdar meets the challenge of a retrospective piece that is also futuristic for its time, with monochrome tones, bar coded shirts, metal frames and TV screens that, turning expectation on its head, do not divert us from the live action but act as a background to reflect the themes of the piece.
Alex the anti-hero and his gang play out the extravaganza of violence and Beethoven through which this 15 year old gets his kicks. The ‘Milk Plus’, the futuristic fictional Nadsat Slavonic slang, and a revelling in violent and sexual crimes, are contrasted with the calculated experimentation of the establishment; the clinicians who ‘re-programme’ him. Somewhere in the middle are the parents – manifesting their sense of responsibility and concern to Alex’s face, their revulsion of him to his back and an absolute refusal to take him back into their lives, now that they have a lodger. Well things move on don’t they?
With all five of the ensemble cast sharing the action and at different times assuming the persona of Alex this production achieves a layer of analysis and reflection in the storytelling. Is Alex’s violent and twisted drive any worse than the experiments conducted upon him and can he change? Paul Coldrick strikes a balance between measured and comic voices, memorably as Alex’s father grimacing at the back of his son’s head, Kyle Edward-Hubbard, has both menace and innocence in his demeanour, Alex Moran takes us to the extremities of defencelessness and Billy Rayner performs from both within and outside the story with satirical observation. Mairi Phillips the lone female in this ensemble moves from enigmatic androgyny to powerful female who,’ bare-breasted’, achieves the sense in the room that we the audience, are the vulnerable ones for witnessing her nudity rather than she in her natural female form.
The scenes in which the 'Reform versus Retribution' debate is raised, are among the most interesting sequences. The cast work seamlessly in a high-energy, taut production. The language is as big a beast to manage as the graphic nature of the performing. There is a good deal of dark comedy, from the supping on pints of ‘Milk Plus’ to the disturbing, humorous and nagging presence of the breast pump, and the ritualistic played out militarism of the gang. Ken and Barbie dolls jumping on a type-writer, are puppets for the enactment of the attacks with a systematic chopping of limbs. Naturally oranges are deployed.
This is a timely production by Volcano, with flashes of Tarentino and Irvine Welsh that serve to remind us of a continuation of the genre. The contemporary echoes of Eastern European language ring true, as does the American view of the lost empire and the weak British, delivered with comic flourish.
Director Phil Davies delivers a fresh, energetic 21st Century interpretation of this dark and intelligent work of fiction.
Arcola Studio 1 until April 21st
For more information and a map for the venue go to Full Listings.