The Barons Court Theatre is more like a dungeon than a traditional theatre space, but with its black brick arches it's the perfect setting for Kensington Drama Company's A Clockwork Orange. This is a production which bristles with energy but one which ultimately fails to explore the story's moral dilemma.
Alex and his teenage gang, "the Droogs" are uncontrollable and violent; they rape, mug, kill and listen to Beethoven. When Alex is finally caught and sent to prison, he’s offered a choice – face a lifetime in prison or undertake a new, radical treatment. Opting for the Ludovico Technique, Alex is soon cured of his violent tendencies, but what is the cost of his supposed freedom?
Director Duncan Moore sticks to Anthony Burgess's original novel and the Nadsat slang language is beautifully alive as it is spat from the young actor's mouths. The torture scenes too are powerfully played with screams, vomit and mad scientists. There’s also a nice slice of humour throughout, mainly coming from the strong minor characters; the wincing prison warden and slimy lodger are partially good. Despite these strengths, the play fails to push the audience into asking difficult moral questions.
Alex's ultra-violent nature is pitch perfect, he smiles manically and shrieks like he's suffering from Tourette's, but it’s a performance lacking the subtly needed to explore the character’s journey. Of course, Burgess's novel doesn’t offer any easy moral conclusions; for the most part he resists giving us any sympathetic characters. Alex is never meant to be likable and we’re asked to advocate free will in spite of his horrific actions. Yet we do need some light and shade.
Burgess explained that his title was a metaphor for "an organic entity, full of juice and sweetness and agreeable odour, being turned into an automaton". Unfortunately we are unable to see Alex’s sweetness.
F. Alexander’s key role in the play is also rushed through. He is a principled man who wants to champion free will despite the personal loss it has brought him. In this sense he is the audience's counterpart, the character who should reflect and influence our moral dilemma. It’s a shame then that he (and the audience) are not given more space to reflect on Alex’s actions.
Yet it’s important to remember that the Kensington Theatre Company is an amateur theatre group, and despite its flaws this is still an engaging piece of theatre. "To be young is to be an animal", Alex concludes at the end of the play; in a time when one in five youths are unemployed and school children are protesting in the streets, it’s a certainly timely to reflect on what it means to be young.
By Jon Davis