A cult novel that still has as much relevance today as it did when it was first imagined in 1962, A Clockwork Orange has been adapted many times; most famously by Stanley Kubrick in the 1971 film. New Yorkers Ed DuRante (words) and Fred Carl (music) are the latest to embark on this endeavor, promising to return to the original source of Anthony Burgess’ book and most importantly, his last chapter of redemption and hope which was missing from the first editions of the novel and the famous film.
This focus is evident in the Theatre Royal Stratford East, with the storyline and the lyrics of the music focusing ultimately on the power of choice and in ones ability to change. This theme is recurrent from the beginning of the production all the way to the end, with the second song by one of the gang’s victims focusing on choice, with lyrics the likes of “we all have good and evil inside” and “choose to choose.”
The imagined abrupt change from sociopath to reformed individual, which was the main reason behind omitting the final chapter, is combatted very cleverly in this adaptation, with hints of wanting to change evident from even before he is incarcerated whilst Alex mutters, “I am not angry, I am okay,” repeatedly to himself in bouts of understanding. This, in itself takes the story bounds away from the cliché it could so easily have been.
Strength is portrayed not only in the characters of the “horror show ninjas” but also in the parents of protagonist Alex, and in several of the gangs victims, all of whom are typically characterized as passive. Another important difference the writers chose to incorporate is the humane side of Alex, which other adaptations largely ignore. This is partly ensured by Joyce, an added character, to whom he opens up and reveals his insecurities. His intelligence also adds to this, portrayed by the insights into his mind, important in illustrating that no one is wholly bad or without hope.
The original book, which explored the ultra violent white working class, has been made over to explore some of the challenges faced by the black community. With a majority black cast and a musical score that consists of R&B, rap, jazz and blues, it would not be too far fetched to say the story is ultimately very different from what you expect while taking your seats. This is partly due to the fact that rather than rousing the anticipated feeling of impending doom it brings a message of hope. This reverberates through the audience with some of the final words that are uttered on the stage; “I needed a little death to be born again.”
This at times positive vibe is aided by the music, which is as often upbeat as it is downcast. The most disturbing part of the production, for me (and this may come as a surprise to those who know how disturbing the story is), is the mother’s heartbreaking song questioning what on earth her son has become; “You look like my son, he was born of my love… who are you?”
Updating Burgess’ language to a slang that’s half British, half American, and wholly the way young people actually speak [even going so far as to incorporate “bluku bluku” which you will actually hear on the lips of many a London youth] the script is at times shocking, sometimes humorous, and sometimes both; “the best part of you dripped down your mothers leg.”
In a post-riot London with unending conversations about a disaffected, angry youth; the hooded gang that climb the banisters and leap onto the stage reside all the more deeply and uncomfortably with an audience who are all at once shocked into attention. Apprehensive upon my arrival as to what violence would ensue onstage, the audience was luckily spared from any explicit scenes; the choreography allowing an insight into the horrific violence, rapes and murder without ensuring nightmares for the days and weeks to follow. All in all it is a brilliantly original adaptation of a classic, definitely worth watching.
A Clockwork Orange runs at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, London from Saturday 3 September – Saturday 1 October 2011. Visit www.stratfordeast.com for tickets & info.
Photo Credit: Robert Day