Following a very successful first trip into festival theatre land, I was more than willing to follow my drama student friend Immi back into the woods once more on Saturday night. So, at 9 o clock, instead of flocking off with the crowds to watch headliners Elbow, who I had seen and thoroughly enjoyed on a previous occasion anyway, we ventured back to the Theatre Arena. This time, it was an all-male production of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, co-produced by Glynis Henderson Productions and Action to the Word. Having seen the film I felt I had a vague idea what to expect, and once again Immi had seen the production at Edinburgh last summer. Twice. “It was that amazing that I just had to go twice,” she explained to me, “and amazing enough that I have to see it again.” Needless to say, I had very high expectations.
And somehow these expectations were still exceeded. Set in Manchester’s underworld, A Clockwork Orange centres on the most repellent features of the human character, and is infamous for not only the amount of violence it contains but also the intricacies of its characters, morality and message. Burgess’ dark, twisted world of Alex DeLarge and his Droogs could easily be lost in the transition to the stage, but this production absolutely managed to capture the unsettling soul of this legendary novel. Action to the Word’s website promises “a celebration of gorgeousness and gorgeousity… a playtime of orgiastic ultraviolence and sexuality”, and this is indisputably what is delivered.
Energetic, vivid, raw, entertaining, horrifying, dark, moving and brilliant. From start to finish, the cast of this production delivered performances more intense, both physically and emotionally, than I have ever seen. With minimal scenery, a very bare setting and simple costumes, the focus was absolutely on the actors and the chilling atmosphere they created. As a group, the cast were incredibly powerful and menacing, but gave individual performances which were extremely nuanced, vividly bringing to life Burgess’ world. The physical aspect of this production was incredible, flipping between explosive violence and elegant transition sequences, all underlined by a very palpable sensuality. Without such a talented cast a play as challenging as A Clockwork Orange would be a struggle to sit through. This cast made it feel like an honour.
I can’t go any further without giving very special mention to Martin McCreadie as Alex DeLarge. His performance was nothing short of exquisite. It can not be denied that the role of Alex is an extremely challenging one. He is a rapist, an intellectual, a murderer, indulges in hedonism as a sport, and should be a generally despicable young man. Yet by the end of this production, the audience is absolutely on his side. It is worrying, in a way, that such a detestable figure can have the audience eating out of his hands, but such is the power of McCreadie’s performance. He is not off stage for more than a minute, yet manages to sustain DeLarge’s complex character with apparent ease. The role is also not only emotionally, but also physically, demanding: by the end of the performance, McCreadie was actually steaming.
After a sell-out show at Edinburgh Festival last year which received rave reviews and universal critical acclaim, A Clockwork Orange is returning there again this summer, and I am sure that it will enjoy the same success. I don’t see how it couldn’t. It is relentless and brutal, sickening and arousing in equal measure, yet also very easy to engage with. It has been described as a triumph, and not without good reason. This was undoubtedly the highlight of my entire weekend and, just like my lovely friend Immi, I would pay to see it again and again and again.
Image: Abigail Silvester on Flickr