It is always a challenge to adapt a novel’s narrative to the stage. Even more so, when the novel is a dystopia like A Clockwork Orange. The different architecture, the atmosphere, the sense of being immersed in a possible future, can hardly be conveyed by a few props and some modest sound effects. In short, the distant world cannot be conjured, and the whole endeavour becomes a recipe for theatrical disaster. And yet, last night’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s novel at the Keble O’Reilly theatre transcended these issues, placing its focus on the individual characters through a minimalist use of props, and exposed a most interesting side of the author’s narrative, namely the enhanced characterisation of the parts and the interactions between them.
On the whole, this student playact can only be deemed mesmerising. Perhaps due to the skilful employment of theatrical effects and lights. Perhaps it was the inspired casting of a lady as one of Alex’s violent and vicious ‘droogs’ (none of which are female in the original text), which gave the play a nice twist and a touch of violent femininity, much needed in our time of sexual equality. Or perhaps it was the general competence and preparation of the cast, especially in the acrobatic stunts, necessary for the narration of a tale of violence and vice. One just finds it difficult to decide what made this play so amusing and enjoyable.
Leaving the theatre, many in the audience were puzzled by the unexpected ending, by which the brutal Alex redeems himself, as it did not conform to the Kubrick’s film adaptation, or to the American edition of the novel, which close with the boy being as evil and destructive as ever. The decision to include the last chapter of Anthony Burgess’s novel (absent in both the film and the American edition) in the theatrical narrative, while somewhat anti-climatic, does give the viewer a less popular ending to the tale with whom so many are acquainted. On judging this decision, opinions may differ, but what seems to have an established consensus, is the fact that A Clockwork Orange opened this Michaelmas’s theatrical season with a bang.