A Clockwork Orange – Australian Tour 2013, Sydney

A Clockwork Orange is currently touring Australia, an import from the UK. Inspired by an exploration of the concept of the adolescent boy, the ensemble is exclusively male, and exceedingly physical; in transition between scenes and in some scenes entirely, the work steps over to become dance theatre.

A Clockwork Orange. Image by Belinda Strodder
A Clockwork Orange. Image by Belinda Strodder

A valid question to be whenever we are exposed to imported works in Sydney, is: is our cultural landscape sufficiently enriched by the addition of this work? Of course, the answer to this question can be subjective, and hinges on the varying definitions of “sufficient”, and what is considered the benchmark for sufficiency. Is it the experience of something we’re not equipped to execute ourselves? Is it justification of using our scant and precious theatre (and indeed, advertising) space on works and performers that aren’t “ours”, part of our organic theatre-making industry?

It’s a question to really consider of late, especially with Sydney’s recent exposure to quite a few productions shipped wholesale from overseas in the past six months (like Pirates of Penzance and Driving Miss Daisy and One Man, Two Guvnors), with varying degrees of cultural relevance and commercial success. The shows have all been positively reviewed: Pirates of Penzance gave us a whole new way of looking at the story of a show that was a complete departure from recent, famed Australian productions; Driving Miss Daisy offered an opportunity to see legendary talent, not least of which was Boyd Gaines, who we never would have seen on stage without the Lansbury/Jones star power. One Man, Two Guvnors, could have been replica staged with an Australian cast without any loss to the integrity of the piece, but it was an outstanding farce, expertly executed, filling a void in Sydney of straight comedy in the theatre.

A Clockwork Orange is closest perhaps to the latter example, but not quite. It’s a new conceit and the staging is quite unlike any of the norms we see here. We’re still cultivating our appreciation of and attraction to dance theatre, or dance-complemented narrative. However, watching A Clockwork Orange, one almost misses the intimate hand of someone like Australia’s Lucy Guerin (Food, Conversation Piece), who collocates dance and theatre with an enviable fluidity.

However, A Clockwork Orange delivers, and it is very, very good. It’s a visceral tableau of a decent from dysfunction into psychological terror, almost melodic in its use of Anthony Burgess’s original lexicon for the droogs, the Russian-English colloquialism mashup that feels menacing in the most deliciously matter-of-fact way.  Dialogue aside, this feeling is best captured in James Meryck, an ensemble member/dancer who is granted the ominous prop of a golf club, and whose movement is all beautiful, sinister lines. He strikes poses; we watch).

Dark, relentless, and true to the book, Alex’s famed brainwashing is conducted via strategically framed lighting and descriptive dialogue. Alex’s anguished, roaring pain is well-handled, chaotic and paralysing. It’s a satisfying rendition of a story held almost sacrosanct by its fans.

The use of an all-male cast has been more successful in other productions. The portrayal of women in the piece is mixed, varying from effortless inhabitation to self-conscious stereotyping. When it worked, the show had a well-appreciated queer sensibility. When it didn’t, it felt affected and lazy. The cast, however, should not be faulted for this. They are fearless, ferocious, darkly difficult and confronting embodiments of a culture of violence and they did it all with a well-needed ease; it’s seductive. Martin McCreadie as ringleader Alex gives a layered performance true adolescent rage with a twinge of god-complex, and is somehow still likable. It is on his performance that the ensemble’s own rests, and he doesn’t let them down. The Rev (Damien Hasson) is a good-humoured troubling satire of a figure and Hasson has one of the most pleasingly expressive faces in the show.

The dancer-actors in the ensemble, choreographed by director Alexandra Spencer-Jones and led by Dance Captain Will Stokes, manage to avoid awkward homages to West Side Story – a visually stunning but heavily sanitised vision of teen unrest – at least after the first ten or so minutes. Meryk in particular stands out as a dancer, constantly drawing the eye, and he best tells the story through his movement.

A Clockwork Orange. Image by Belinda Strodder
A Clockwork Orange. Image by Belinda Strodder

The music in the show is loud and inspired in choice; violence and dance alike are underscored by loaded queer and pop anthems by acts like The Scissor Sisters and Gossip, more than adequately replacing Burgess’ own penned songs for the stage without sacrificing the relentless assault on the sense that is this production.

We could have staged this show with an Australian creative team, and perhaps doing so would help some of our triple-threats, largely relegated to musical theatre and musical theatre alone, gain some crossover into more versatile forms of performance, but it’s a good, cohesive and worthwhile production, well worth someone’s time to see. Let’s hope it inspires structural and dramaturgical exploration in our scene so we can add our own voices to the clamour this show so insistently creates. That is the gift this show gives audiences: it inspires.

Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and was the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue

One thought on “A Clockwork Orange – Australian Tour 2013, Sydney

  • Saw a clockwork orange 4/5/13. Absolutely deliciously WICKED, memorable performances by the entire cast. All in all a GREAT show.


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