By Anthony Burgess
Directed by Alexandra Spencer-Jones
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“A Clockwork Orange” – a fair gloopy title. Who ever heard of A Clockwork Orange? ‘The attempt to impose upon man the laws and conditions appropriate only to a mechanical creation – against this I raise my Sword-Pen?’” – Alex
Alexandra Spencer-Jones’s staging of Anthony Burgess’s “A Clockwork Orange” at New World Stages slices deeply into the human psyche where the unbridled libidinous “id” battles the “superego” for supremacy as the “ego” struggles to regain strength and restore “normalcy” to the personalities of Alex deLarge (Jonno Davies) and his irrepressible droogs Dim (Sean Patrick Higgins), Georgie (Matt Doyle), and Pete (Misha Osherovich).
Alex and his boys were real enough to Mr. Burgess and remain real enough to Ms. Jones: they are also powerful tropes for all that society currently faces as it finds itself worldwide in the grip of what might be described as “psychopathy” but might also have a completely different provenance other than degrees of moral rigor. The droogs terrorize seemingly without intention and randomly. The state’s “milk bars” have dehumanized them and replaced free will with psychotropic drugs and the “gangs” protest by their disregard for the “common law.”
Alex is betrayed by his buddies and ends up in prison where the violence is as common as in the “outside” world. Inmates are murdered without intervention by the guards. In an effort to shorten his sentence and return to the streets, Alex – prisoner number 6655321 – volunteers to undergo the Ludovico Technique after which he “will be able to leave this prison in a little over two weeks, never again [having] the desire to commit acts of violence or offend in any way whatsoever.” Alex’s “recovery” and his return to “civilization” is chilling to watch and the moral ambiguity underpinning the transformation is palpable.
Ms. Spencer-Jones’s creation is an accurate telling of the novel energized by the athletic dance movement and athleticism of the ensemble cast. Her decision to “reinstate” the final chapter of “A Clockwork Orange” is the perfect choice. Alex’s hopes for redemption and release are realistic at the end of this decade when the global yearning for meaning in life and reconciliation with all that appears good is so intense and when the global community yearns to reclaim the right to choose and decide the quality of its future.
Under Ms. Spencer-Jones’s precise and inventive direction, the ensemble cast of “misfits” and “miscreants” deliver uniformly authentic performances that challenge the status-quo understanding of “right and wrong” and “good and evil.” The “reading” through the psychological lens is telling and allows the audience member to experience projection and transference in shocking new ways. James Baggaley’s somber lighting, Emma Wilk’s magniloquent sound design, and the original music by Glenn Gregory and Berenice Scott counterpoint Alexandra Spencer-Jones’s direction to create a theatre piece that scrapes away at the stolid underbelly of American morality with surgical precision and a merciless zeal to heal.
In addition to the original music for the Rape and Dream Sequences, “A Clockwork Orange” is infused with extant pop music written by or covered by such luminaries as David Bowie (“We Are the Dead”), Placebo, Gossip, Muse, The Flamingos and Alexandra Spencer-Jones. The German neoclassical/power metal band At Vance’s “5th Sinfone” (Ludwig van Beethoven) plays a pivotal role in the protagonist’s “salvific” journey.
The Chaplain (Timothy Sekk) introduces a moral dilemma to Alex when he chooses to undergo the Technique and introduces to the audience a morally ambiguous choice and an ethical system based more on situation than dictum: “It may not be nice to be good, 6655321. Is a man who chooses to be bad in some ways better than a man who is forced to be good? You know, what does God want? God help us all, 6655321.” This rich and enduring question rattles the audience to experience catharsis in unimaginable ways.