Preview: A Clockwork Orange

Gabbie Bird 17 May 2014

A Clockwork Orange lures its audience into the glorious glass-edged nastiness of Burgess’ world. A playtime of orgiastic ultraviolence and sexuality, it is the story of little Alex and his Droogs in their battle against the tedium of adolescence – an unapologetic and shocking jubilation of the human condition, rather than light-hearted exam term stress relief!

Yet though the play revels in appalling violence within a dystopian society, and features corrupt inhumane punishment, speaking to the cast reveals another side. All have been surprised at just how funny and terrifyingly relevant the play is today as when the book was published just over 50 years ago.

The play is an unapologetic and shocking jubilation of the human condition             Credit: Alice Walker

‘Singing in the Rain’ may never be heard in the same way after watching Kubrick’s film, but the play presents the story from another angle. “The key thing is that its not the glorification of violence, it’s a neutral perspective,” says Alex Cartlidge, the producer. “We’re stepping back and are keen to show what is exciting to these young people. They enjoy it – it’s glorified through their eyes and how they see it rather than gratuitous violence. The audience are removed and see it from their point of view and question how society has allowed it to get to that point of enjoying it.” They suggest that the play is Shakespearean like in its presentation of sexual assault: “We don’t actually see any rape happen – we only see the build up to it”.

Mark Milligan, playing the lead, juvenile delinquent, Alex explains the language used by the Droogs, adds a level of detachment which prevents it becoming ‘too real’. “The violence has its own language and vocabulary called Nadstat [Russian for teenager] which is used as a kind of buffer to the violence which is very disorientating. It’s only behind the language that you find the violence.This production is very stylised, a step away from the ‘pornographic’ nature of Kubrick’s 1971 film. “I’m always thinking about the fact that this is a character who rapes for fun – it’s unthinkable and awful… but the stylised elements allows you step away from that. There’s a fascinating sense of distancing.” Rosanna Suppa adds that “the words [our characters] use are nothing that you recognise or associate with such horrific acts and the stylised nature means that its like a pantomime being told through the eyes of someone who loves violence.”

Mark Milligan, in the foreground, will be playing the lead role of Alex.                        Credit: Gabbie Bird

Fight sequences have been choreographed by Robbie Taylor-Hunt who adds “the use of movement that the directors have added really cleverly helps to keep that little level of detachment away from the horror or the rape. It means you can properly consider it and appreciate the horror, without being completely traumatised and shutting off from it.”

An extra shocking element of this production can be found in a unique casting choice. Rosanna Suppa is playing one of the Droogs, playing the role as a female – a choice which has changed the dynamic of the group. “In some ways it makes it worse that I’m a girl, especially in the scene where we have to go and rape… I have to watch while another member of my sex being taken away by my three friends while I’m holding Alexander [the victim’s husband] back. I still play a part in the atrocities that we commit and personally I think that the fact that my character is a girl adds to this.”

Rosanna Suppa will be playing one of the Droogs.                                                
 Credit: Gabbie Bird

Giving examples of drinking societies and ‘lad culture’ within Cambridge, despite its stylisation and drastic contrasts it's clear that relevant connections can be drawn. However rather than a play about gender stereotypes, Taylor-Hunt suggests that having a girl as one of the Droogs makes it so it’s not about men being awful beings who can rape, but its about violence as a whole, and the fact that anyone can get caught up with it. We say ‘lad culture’ but we’re more looking at group mentality, gang culture, not just boys are evil and girls are not.”

What’s also important is their youth and the fact that it’s not sexual at all. When they rape someone its not about sexual pleasure its about something else” says Max Maher who will be playing victim F. Alexander. “The whole time their violence is presented as entertaining and is fun to watch so that the audience become complicit. They see it like in the first person novel, through the eyes of someone who is enjoying it”.

Above all the cast are keen to emphasise is just how fun this production is. Suppa states that it's "worryingly enjoyable" and Taylor-Hunt tells us that "it's one of those stories where you catch yourself laughing and realise that its actually really horrific."

It’s surprising just how funny the play is. That’s really something we’re keen to emphasise” says Cartlidge. “It’s very much over the top. Mark is an expert at being over the top and I don’t think that I’ve ever been in a rehearsal room where everyone was enjoying themselves so much. It’s quite disturbing in a way…”

The play has been described as "worringly enjoyable".                                           Credit: Alice Walker

A Clockwork Orange may be addressing horrific and deep moral issues, but it does so not simply to shock, but to initiate reflection. “The key music in the play is Beethoven which is used throughout. Specifically it is ‘Ode to Joy’. That’s the linking point in the whole play. It’s about joy. For him, his behaviour is joyful” says Maher. 'Although not overly so', Cartlidge interjects, 'It's in the absurd darkly comic elements where the characters havie fun."

Importantly this is not the book, or Kubrick’s film on stage.  Cartlidge explains that “the play was written as a retaliation against the film. He [Burgess] liked the film but wasn’t happy that Kubrick left him on his own to defend against the accusations that it was gratuitous violence. That’s not what the story is.”  Milligan concludes "It’s genuinely fascinating. Rather than the film being about watch and see, the novel is about read and think…The world that is created in the play carries on with a playful youthfulness which asks some important questions about growing up.”


'A Clockwork Orange' will be playing at the ADC from Tuesday 20th – Saturday 24th May at 7.45pm

Tickets £12/£9 (Tue £10/£7)

Box Office: 01223 300085

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