REVIEW: “A Clockwork Orange” onstage – why?
Last June, “1984”, a British stage adaptation of George Orwell’s iconic 1949 novel, opened on Broadway with seemingly no reason to exist except for to capitalize on the zeitgeist. The storytelling was muddled, and the much buzzed about violence both gratuitous and mostly vanilla.
A mere 3 months later, history has repeated itself.
Last Monday, September 25th, “A Clockwork Orange”, a British stage adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s iconic 1962 novel (memorably transferred to the screen by Stanley Kubrick in 1971), opened at New World Stages Off-Broadway with seemingly no reason to exist except to capitalize on the zeitgeist. The storytelling is muddled, and the much buzzed about violence both gratuitous and mostly vanilla.
For those unfamiliar with the story, “A Clockwork Orange” is set in a near-future dystopian Britain, and concerns a 15-year-old ruffian named Alexander deLarge and his fellow “droogs” who roam the night in a haze of unbridled adolescent toxic masculinity, committing drug-induced crimes of violence, theft, and rape courtesy of a visit to the Korova Milkbar. Imprisoned, Alex volunteers for the Ludovico technique, an experimental government treatment to cure him of his criminality that ends up rendering him physically ill upon having a violent or sexual impulse and, due to a Pavlovian side-effect, at the sound of music—particularly the works of his beloved “Ludvig van” (Beethoven).
I have attempted to read the book more than once over the years, but found the “Nadsat” patois (a made up language mixing Cockney English and Russian) employed so difficult to cypher that I gave up. I should try again. The exquisite and iconic film by Kubrick incisively explores interesting and important questions about masculinity, free will, religion, government, and crime and punishment. I kept waiting for the play to get beyond its own production values to explore these questions as sharply, but it never does. Instead, we are treated to 90 minutes of aural assault, Jerome Robbins-esque stage combat, and unnecessary toplessness.
If you’ve seen or heard anything about this production, it’s probably the incredibly, er impossibly, fit ensemble of young men who compose the cast. British import Jonno Davies gives a commanding performance as Alex, literally outsizing the rest of the cast, and his fellow “droogs” match his intensity and physicality. The production is high energy and performed with great vigor, and the music, costumes, sets, and lighting are all excellent, but in the end, director Alexandra Spencer-Jones misses opportunities to fully explore the richness of the material. Instead, her emphasis on amping up the homoeroticism and focusing on sleek combat-cum-choreography removes any shock from Alex and his droogs’s shocking bout of violence. Without the horror, at any point, the story falls limp.
Anytime a well-known property is adapted for the stage, it begs the question of why. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy seeing “A Clockwork Orange” live onstage, but I also can’t say what it added to my experience, appreciation, and understanding of the material that I didn’t already have from watching the film (and maybe someday reading that book).
Bottom Line: The stage adaptation of the celebrated book and film is an entertaining production, but ultimately doesn’t add anything new to the material. Read the book or watch the Kubrick masterpiece instead.
“A Clockwork Orange”
New World Stages
340 West 50th Street
New York, NY 10019
Running Time: 90 minutes (no intermission)
Opening Night: September 25, 2017
Final Performance: January 6, 2018