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Clockwork Orange's violent grip is timeless

February 28, 2019

A Clockwork Orange, Abbey Theatre, Nuneaton, until March 2 

The cast already populates the stage as the audience take to their seats, performing a yoga routine in dim lighting with spinning orange cogs projected onto a Mondrian inspired set.

 And it is the stage on which all eyes stay as Sudden Impulse Theatre Company offer up a gripping adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ classic dystopian tale.

 When the dance music pumping into the venue is (thankfully) replaced with the opening bars of Beethoven’s 9th symphony the energetic and physical performance begins, with montages of Alexand his cohorts participating in the typical ‘droog’ activities of violence, theft, and “a bit of the old in-and-out”, setting the tone of the production perfectly.
 The benefit of the yoga routines is soon apparent as the crew members fly through the first half ofthe performance, mixing well-constructed scenes with impressive displays of physical theatre which manage to hold the attention of the audience throughout. The physical nature of the production to portray the ultra-violent nature of the plot is commendable, as the battle between Alex and Billboy, and the infamous home invasion rape, are effectively manoeuvred in lively scenes which manage to stop short of being excessive. 
 A lethal blow delivered with a bust of Beethoven marks the beginning of Alex’s stripping down (literally in some cases) as he is sent to prison to be reformed, and it is in this setting where a lighter touch is evident, with excellent portrayals of the officious prison guard and boozy chaplain bringing chortles from the audience. With the introduction of the prison governor and sinister Dr. Brodsky, things soon take another turn, shifting the focus of the performance to hone in on the central themes of the story - free-will and choice - with the subjecting of Alex to the brutal Ludovico Technique and its consequential impact.
 The design of the set is a particular strength of the production, with the white backdrop being used to good effect as a screen for various scenes of violence and unsavoury images to be projected upon during Alex’s ‘conditioning’, and the cast generally use the space very well, not only to add depth but also to represent the running conflict between right and wrong and the questions surrounding free-will. Effort has been made to remain as true to the original text as possible, but there are some clever adaptations to the script which helps the production stand by itself as not simply a rehash of the film – the famous opening refrain “So what’s it going to be then, eh?” delivered in song to be followed by a multitude of ‘nadsat’ jargon, the language of the ‘droogs’, works particularly well.
 This is an ambitious effort by a predominantly young group of actors to put on an energetic and captivating production which remains faithful to the Burgess’ novel, a story which by the nature of its content is easy to get wrong when translating into other mediums. The performance is not without its drawbacks (one or two scenes in the second half are a little lacking), but these do not detract from what is a thoroughly gripping and entertaining adaptation.

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