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East of England
posted/updated: 13 Mar 2020 -
A Clockwork Orange
Anthony Burgess
society/company: Early Doors Productions (directory)
performance date: 12 Mar 2020
venue: Brentwood Theatre, 15 Shenfield Road, Brentwood CM15 8AG
reviewer/s: Michael Gray (Sardines review)

What’s it going to be then, eh?
Tolchocking, dratsing and kicks in the yarblockos?

All of the above, and much more, in Early Doors’ pumped-up and physical take on Burgess’s iconic novel [movie, soundtrack LP …]
Poetical too, if perhaps a little opaque to those not brought up on the Nadsat dialect and the doings of the Droogs who speak it on the Road to Joy.

Not for the nervous or easily offended, warns the flyer. And the old ultra-violence [Burgess’s invention] is just as shocking for being stylised, gang rape just as raw when it’s choreographed to Rossini and Ludwig Van.

Amy Clayton’s taut, focused production respects many of those iconic elements. The sound design features our hero’s favourite Ninth Symphony, but also a Moog moment, a snatch of Early Music for the brutal “discipline” and, as Burgess intended, echoes of the music-hall and the musicals. The Lighthouse Keeper song, which I’d totally forgotten, and Singing in the Rain, with the hard-working cast of eight taking their calls, as we hoped they would, to Gene Kelly’s oddly reassuring vocals.

The white tights and codpieces, not to mention the hats, echo the iconography of the film; there are orange caps for the gaol, matching frizzy wigs and merkins for the women. The staging is spare; limbless white mannequins hover menacingly from the flies.

Young Alex, the bright, Beethoven-loving, hoodlum at the heart of the story, is brilliantly done by Ben Martins, no mean song-and-dance man himself. A riveting performance, in his pomp, in therapy, and back in the real world of y-fronts and cardigans.

There’s spectacular doubling amongst the other actors. Burgess’s weird and worrying dystopia does not feature many strong women, but Laura-Leigh O’Donoghue, Julie Salter and Jennifer Bell make the most of the various victims and dependants, and there are [almost] equal opportunities for doctors and prison governors.

The men are Alex’s Droogs, of course, but also all the other characters: Deltoid [Richard Orchard-Rowe], the prolix prison chaplain [Mark Griffiths], Matt Jones, switching instantly between warder and Minister of the Inferior, and Justin Cartledge excellent as the Mad Scientist and many other roles.

The movement work is unfailingly impressive. The “chair of torture” has human arms, dialogue is often echoed in mime, there is dance, too, as well as all that carefully choreographed “twenty-to-one”.

The second half is more political, moralistic even, with Little Alex, rejected by his awful family – Cartledge the pipe-sucking, arse-scratching Dad – and rejecting his new black-clad Droogs for a life of orange domesticity.

“Choice is free but seldom easy. That’s what human freedom means.”

A compelling piece of physical theatre from this most adventurous of companies; this summer they’re taking last year’s Freak Show south to the Albany for a well-deserved London run.

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