A Clockwork Orange
Earl Arts Centre, Launceston
September 7th, 2023
Anthony Burgess’ classic 1962 novel, A Clockwork Orange is considered by many as one of the greatest english language novels of the 20th century, yet it is known predominantly by its 1971 film adaptation from Stanley Kubrick. It has been fairly well documented that at the time of the film’s release, Burgess wasn’t happy with Kubrick’s screenplay as he felt it misrepresented his novel, and ten years later wrote A Clockwork Orange: A Play with Music to try and right the wrongs the film made. Now, a further 40 years on, we see this production again, with all the striking relevance to today’s world, produced by the Launceston Players at the Earl Arts Centre.
A Clockwork Orange centres around 15-year-old Alex, a violent youth gang leader whose band of Droogs, leave a path of mayhem and destruction in their wake, as they spend their nights partaking in ultra-violent and sexual attacks. This apparent “dystopian future,” a description that implies this world should be representative of an "imaginary" futuristic society consisting of human misery. Yet the way of the world in our current social climate, puts this supposed “imaginary” world into a scarily relevant and nauseating modern context. The representations of toxic masculinity, violence and sexual crime presented in the script, are all serious daily real-world problems. However, as much as these elements are a major focus of A Clockwork Orange, the more prevailing theme is the examination it provides on free will and choice and how we lose our humanity when we are deprived of the power to choose.
Leigh Oswin has assembled an impressive lineup of sixteen powerful female performers to bring this controversial and confronting script to the stage. Led by the infallible Nikia Breen as Alex, who casts a life of intimidating vulnerability, threatening and emotional in just the right measure to drive the performance through at a breakneck speed. I've always been a fan of Oswin’s direction, but I think A Clockwork Orange might just be his best work to date. A production with many moving parts, all of which were executed at a high level and polished with spectacularly choreographed fight scenes, and a sound design that created spectacle without falling into glorification. These choices helped to ensure that the confronting subject matter wasn’t just simply palatable for an audience, but in some instances whimsical and elegant, which raised some interesting questions regarding the appeal toward violence for the men in the story.
While Nikia’s standout performance as Alex guided us from beginning to end, helping an audience to find compassion for a character who begins with no redeeming qualities and ends as a human figure we can all relate to; the fifteen-woman strong ensemble supported her with such strength and polish that it would be impossible to name everyone. A few significant performances: from Naomi Leighton, as author Alexander, who produced a startlingly sombre, yet powerful 11 o’clock number recollecting the painful memories surrounding the death of his wife; delivered with tenderness and poise that left the audience shattered with grief. Caitlin McCarthy, Gina McKenzie and Janice Molineux, with their smaller ensemble roles, brought to life some of the most extravagant and memorable characters, each one bringing some genuinely glorious comic moments to an overall dark and heavy piece. McCarthy in particular, has an almost effortless ability to deliver comedic lines, with timing that holds the audience for just long enough before the punchline. A special mention must also go to Laura Scott; in her first community theatre show outside of school; to produce a performance in such “stark” contrast to the rest of the cast, deserves the highest praise for her commitment to one of the most confronting and daunting challenges in all theatre. Her performance was handled with a respectful grace and confidence.
Through Jeff Hockley’s exquisite lighting design, Terry Ryan’s set design and Matt Harris’s superb sound design, the world of A Clockwork Orange was thoroughly realised and brought a new character to the space, utilising every part of the stage area for their playground. Jeff’s lighting design evolved with the show, creating highlight after highlight, and steering our focus toward the important moments. Matt Harris’s Sound design, building from the works of Beethoven and his own compositions, brings yet another dimension to this world created. Along with Chris Bryg’s vocal direction and the haunting chorus work from the ensemble, this sound design contributes to an atmosphere that continued to excite, challenge, unsettle and emotionally empower the performances and the audience.
The one grievance I had, was centred around the inescapably contentious decision for an all-female cast. The key information given to us throughout the script is about predominantly male behaviour, portrayed by male characters. As Oswin stated in his director’s notes, an all-female cast gives a great platform to add to the conversation of toxic masculinity. However, I was slightly disappointed that we didn’t really get that concept interrogated as thoroughly as I had hoped for, as having the female cast playing male characters didn’t seem to say as much as maybe I had been hoping it would. Without rewrites, I don’t know how that comes about, and the discussions surrounding freedom of choice, consent and maintaining humanity in the face of societal pressure, was ultimately given more perspective in these regards. I would have been interested in seeing more of those issues tackled from a female perspective, rather than a diluted perspective through the lens of a male character. I understand and appreciate that that might just be my own male perspective diluting the interrogation discovered through the process and I was excited to hear the perspectives of some cast members in the show regarding their own experiences during the process.
Regardless of whether I got my intellectual needs fully met or not, A Clockwork Orange is a spectacular demonstration of Oswin’s skills as a director and leader of an ensemble, and the sheer magnanimous talents of the female performers in this town. Closes on the 16th, don’t miss out.
Review By Matt Taylor