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A Clockwork Orange stage play packs a powerful punch

Dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange has been adapted for the stage with a strapping all-male cast, writes Kylie Knott

 

IT'S BEEN 51 YEARS since A Clockwork Orange - the controversial novel by British writer Anthony Burgess - was published. It raised eyebrows with a plot focusing on the sadistically violent world of the book's protagonist and narrator, Alex, and his gang (the Droogs), and their battle against the tedium of adolescence.

A decade after it hit bookshelves, eyebrows were lifted further by director Stanley Kubrick's 1971 cult film adaptation.

Now a stage version of the book comes to Hong Kong when British-based theatre company, Action to the Word, fire up the Lyric Theatre of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts from November 6-10, following a highly successful world tour that has stormed Britain and Australia.

It's the first time the show has been staged in Hong Kong, and with anti-government sentiment running high in the city - incensed recently by protests over television licences - a play with themes that include the championing of free will while deploring an oppressive state could not be more relevant.

"The story of A Clockwork Orange stands in any country at any time. That's the genius of the novel. Every generation has dissatisfaction with a governing body and the most natural thing is to strike out at the people who herd us into corners. It will always be relevant and will work in all countries," says director Alexandra Spencer-Jones.

Fans will be happy to learn that the show remains faithful to the book. The major change, says Spencer-Jones, was the decision to have an all-male cast.

"I adore the book and we stay true to the novel, driving in Alex's shoes and using the authentic and enigmatic ending.

"We chose to coat it with fresh paint by using exclusively male actors. Only the actor playing the protagonist Alex - Adam Search - plays just one role.

"The other nine actors play 78 roles between them. It's a real actor challenge, and one for which the lads have received substantial press acclaim.

"I've added to the original play by creating physical sequences between the scenes which tell the story of missing parts of the book. It's a real celebration of what it is to be a boy."

Like Kubrick's film adaption, the stage production uses a mix of musical styles, updating the original soundtrack of Beethoven and Singin' in the Rain with tracks by David Bowie, Scissor Sisters, Placebo, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Pink Floyd.

For Search, preparations for the role were demanding - emotionally and physically.

"I was given a well-chosen reading and listening list, which included not only A Clockwork Orange, but other novels such as American Psycho that allowed me to see the world through the eyes of a psychopath.

"I also immersed myself in the works of Beethoven and other classical music artists to understand the love and adoration Alex has for this genre.

"Understanding the relationship between predator and prey in the natural world also helped. Alex is the ultimate predator and the way animals observe and stalk prey - particularly big cats - gave me a nice physical touch to add to the character."

Search initially had concerns about working with an all-male cast, but says everyone got on like one big happy family.

"Working with such a testosterone-fuelled piece, I expected a few hiccups: aggression, ego, general male hierarchy. But I've never worked with a more connected, giving, family-oriented cast … There's a fantastic camaraderie between us and I think that is one of the reasons why this piece works as well as it does."

Spencer-Jones agrees. "The cast are a band of brothers. They're not exceptionally boisterous or rough, we're talking about late-night poker games and the gym.

"Before each rehearsal, the boys - led by their amazing dance captain, Will Stokes - do an hour of circuit training and cardio."

The routine is nothing to do with the fact they need muscly bodies for the show, but rather because the performance demands great stamina and strength.

Matthew Gregory, executive director of ABA Productions, which is bringing the stage show to Hong Kong, says: " A Clockwork Orange is a simply breathtaking and devastating theatrical experience. The message about government control, censorship and violence still rings as true today as it did 50 years ago."

kylie.knott@scmp.com

 

A Clockwork Orange, Lyric Theatre, Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, 1 Gloucester Road, Wan Chai, November 6-10, 8pm. HK$295-HK$695, HK Ticketing. Inquiries: 2547 7150

 

 

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