Review: A Clockwork Orange, Soho Theatre

“Things have changed a bit, old droogie”

Any adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novella A Clockwork Orange has to battle with the hugely iconic imagery of the Kubrick film but with their own unique take, the Action To The Word company has come close to making it their own as modern parlance would have it. Previously a hit in Edinburgh, the show forms the main house Christmas entertainment at the Soho Theatre and whilst titillating and leaving one thirsty for a drink of milk, it is a curious thing. The story of an über-violent dystopian society full of disaffected youth in which teenage Alex leads a vicious gang of droogs on the rampage is one laced with real darkness, especially as we see Alex get caught, thrown into prison and then subjected to a government-supervised medical trial, but the presentation in Alexandra Spencer-Jones’ production leans away from the violent core. 

She uses an all-male cast to deliberately ramp up the testosterone level and though a programme note insists that “the piece isn’t ‘gay’ or ‘straight’”, there is no doubting that the levels of homo-eroticism are off the scale. Not that this is a bad thing, not at all, but it means that the air is frequently heavy with seductive sexuality rather than danger, the sexual violence ends up being perhaps just a little too sexy. Additionally, the physical language utilised, with its frequent use of movement to the vibrant soundtrack which embraces Placebo and the Eurythmics just as much as the famous Beethoven, adds another distancing factor as stylised choreography replaces the naturalism of stage combat.

So what emerges feels fantastical, allegorical, rather than genuinely disturbing and once one has accepted that this is the key note for the production, there’s much to enjoy. Martin McCreadie is exceptional as Alex, outrageously charismatic throughout even as he rampages and skilfully eliciting our sympathies as a late return home delivers two swift kicks to the (perfectly ripped) solar plexus. That our sympathy comes so easily to one who should be so morally repugnant is symptomatic of the show but perhaps there’s something in the fact that maybe we are more willing to forgive beautiful, captivating people… 

Burgess’ own adaptation of his story isn’t always as compelling as it could be, but this is where the balletic beauty of Hannah Lee’s choreography comes into its own in providing a different kind of elegant grace, the company around McCreadie keep the energy levels up high and the sexual tension taut and the gender swaps of some of the characters further plays into the fluidity of gender and sexuality which is always interesting. So maybe not as nasty as one might be expecting but nonetheless an interesting take oozing with dynamism. 

Running time: 85 minutes (without interval)
Playtext cost: £4
Booking until 5th January 
Photos: Simon Kane

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