first night

A Clockwork Orange

Izzie Price gets a taste of the old ultraviolence with HBT's 'A Clockwork Orange'


“A Clockwork Orange”, set in a dystopian world showcasing rape, violence and torture all accompanied by classical music, presented Hild Bede Theatre with an incredible challenge. It centres on the story of Alex (Tim Blore), a young psychopath who undergoes scientific experimentation by the government to cure him of his psychopathic tendencies. The themes that it tackles and the levels of horror that it explores, not to mention the absurdist style of theatre, combine to create a highly difficult piece of theatre. It should, therefore, be said from the offset that this was a very brave choice for a student production, and one that I respect. I for one would like to see more theatre like this in Durham – theatre that pushes the boundaries and provides a challenge for all involved.

In this instance, however, I felt that the production could have been neatened in several areas, in order for it to become the theatrical spectacle it had the potential to be.

One of my initial issues was the setting – I felt Caedmon Hall was too large a venue for such an absorbing piece. I got the impression that the production was trying to draw the audience into its horrifying world, for example through the horrible projected image of the eye on the back screen. This image certainly served to make the audience empathize with Alex’s plight, but aside from this, I felt totally separated from the action. The actors seemed isolated on the huge stage, and with the chairs a couple of meters away from this, I could not be completely immersed in the scenes happening before me. Despite the large cast, I feel a smaller, more intimate venue would have better served to immerse the audience in Alex’s story.

In addition to this, several scenes seemed rushed and were over too quickly to fully process what had occurred. While I appreciate that energy levels in this production were of paramount importance, the style of theatre was enough to capture the audience’s attention from the offset. Rushing lines is always a shame, as several of the characters seemed seriously underdeveloped. Although I appreciate that almost all the actors were multi-rolling and some characters only had about a minute of stage time, I feel the performance as a whole would have benefitted from more attention to detail. Exceptions to this were Tyler Rainford (Minister of the Interior), who gave a comparatively relaxed performance, which allowed us to appreciate the depth of his character despite his short stage time, and Hamish Clayton, who similarly delivered a calm and seemingly effortless performance of F. Alexander, which served to make his performance extremely moving.

Other stand out performances were delivered by Rory Barnes, as the Chaplain, and Lily Morgan as Dr. Brodsky. Barnes perfectly captured the melodramatic nature of the piece, while at the same time being utterly convincing as the voice of reason throughout, constantly arguing in favour of free will. Morgan delivered a beautifully truthful performance, holding the audience in the palm of her hand as she described to Alex what he was seeing before him while undergoing the treatment. Her transition at the end of the piece to Marty, a shy seventeen year old girl, was uncanny in its total differentiation from her previous role.

Finally, Tim Blore’s performance of Alex was exceptional. He was the real force of energy of the piece – in the first act, his manic stare and frequent leaps around the stage fully convinced the audience of the extent of his depravity. In the second act, his despair at hearing the music of Beethoven was chilling and actually incredibly upsetting to watch. It is to his credit that he was able to portray such horrifying emotions so convincingly. My only gripe with Blore’s performance was that I often found it difficult to hear what he was saying; he clearly had the hardest job lines-wise, having to speak in a made-up language, but he equally could have benefitted from taking more time over his lines, even when shouting.

The minimalist set was a well advised choice, given the multiple locations showcased in the production. Scene changes were fairly slick and it worked well to cover them with classical music. The only thing I had to criticise concerning the set was the bloody corpses on either side of the curtain – I wasn’t entirely sure what their purpose was in being pre-set there even before the play had begun; the amount of violence onstage was certainly enough to portray the shocking nature of Alex’s world. Finally, Shahnaz Ford also deserves a mention for her exceptional eye make-up – it was incredibly effective while at the same time not too distracting.

All in all, though it would feel wrong to call it an enjoyable evening, I appreciated the efforts Williams underwent to put the production together. I have mentioned several times that I found it horrifying, which was no doubt the intention, and it is to Williams’ credit that he created a production so affecting. I do think it could have done with several improvements, but that is not to say it was not a high quality piece of theatre; merely that it just needed a little more attention to detail in order for it to be the incredibly powerful piece of theatre it had the potential to be. 

7 June 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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