A Clockwork Orange

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Jenny Wong bites into Action to the Word’s vision of A Clockwork Orange, with director Alexandra Spencer-Jones and actor Adam Search

When Anthony Burgess’ novella A Clockwork Orange landed on shelves in 1962, followed by Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation in 1971, taboo and shock ran the world of Alex and his droogs, as the seedy underbelly of a dystopian world stung with dark sexuality, graphic violence and aggression – all shrugged off as the visceral misdemeanours (and felonies) of youth.

The theme of sexuality was one that inspired the director of British acting troupe Action to the Word, Alexandra Spencer-Jones, to revive A Clockwork Orange. While working on a production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the themes of testosterone-driven pride and glass-edged malevolence that bubbled underneath the kitschier love story façade enthralled her. What followed was the idea to cast an all-male ensemble for her adaption of A Clockwork Orange. “It was really kind of an actor experiment with testosterone and what boys could do under pressure,” Spencer-Jones explains. The result: a sizzling, 90-minute power play that balances machismo and muliebrity, and intertwines sex and violence with graceful brutality. “They really do fight and hurt each other on stage,” says Spencer-Jones. That’s an indication of the ensemble’s physical intensity and interaction onstage, but according to actor Adam Search, who plays Alex in the play, the connection is even more apparent backstage.

“The camaraderie is fantastic,” says Search. “I’ve never worked with a more focused, calm and caring group of people. There’s no room for ego with over 70 parts in the play. I only play Alex, and there’s 10 actors. It’s amazing for me to see how they shape-shift between roles.” Spencer-Jones adds, “You’ll have a man playing a heavyweight role and then also a delicate lady.” The transitions are, well, like clockwork.  

Like Kubrick’s film, the production picks up on the importance of music, stemming from Alex’s obsession with glorifying choruses (especially Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony) imbued throughout Burgess’ fiction. “I feel like, to do it justice, the music must be spot-on,” Spencer-Jones says. The director fuses modern sounds with classic, complementing Beethoven with Bowie, while indie rock outfit Gossip stands as the most contemporary influence.

The story, on the other hand, remains exactly the same as it did 51 years ago, even down to the use of Nadsat, Burgess’s concoction of idiosyncratic Russo-Anglo-American dialect spoken by Alex and his droogs. This rendition stays true to the novella, with themes that eerily transcend the discolouration of time. “The doctor who conditions Alex with the Ludovico technique describes word-for-word a riot descending in London,” Spencer-Jones says. “It was exactly the scene we saw in the London riots two years ago. Audiences thought we put it in, but we didn’t! While there’s disaffection, chaos and a class system, A Clockwork Orange will always have relevance.”

Alex’s Pavlovian conditioning also brings up the debate of forced moral castration. “The terms ‘honest evil’ or ‘untruthful good’ kept sticking in my head,” Search says. “The things Alex does are terrible and unspeakable, but one thing that can be said is that he’s true and honest in his actions; he doesn’t hide them. The government that take him in puts up this veil of humanity, but they themselves use inhumane violence.”

Having toured the UK and Australia to critical acclaim, Hong Kong is A Clockwork Orange’s last stop for the year. In Alex’s words: “What’s it going to be then, eh?”
 
A Clockwork Orange HK Academy for Performing Arts, Nov 6-10. Tickets: $695- $295; hkticketing.com.

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