Addicted to droogs

By Melanya Burrows

A Clockwork Orange has fixed itself in popular culture as a byword for ultra-violence.

The SiLo Theatre, always fearless in its choices, is producing a new stage play of the work which will come under the umbrella of the AK05 Auckland Festival, launching on February 25.

Its producers are challenging audiences to take a fresh look at what they promise will be a lyrical and poetic piece of theatre, where the violence inherent in the work takes a back seat to the disturbing and complex questions the play poses.

Anthony Burgess published A Clockwork Orange in 1962. The controversial film by Stanley Kubrick, its tagline reading "the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven", shocked audiences when it was released in 1971.

Actor Adam Gardiner plays the lead role of Alex, immortalised by Malcolm McDowell in the Kubrick film. Gardiner believes A Clockwork Orange's infamy is largely based on patchy knowledge of the work.

"In picking A Clockwork Orange, I don't think we could have set ourselves much more of a challenge, taking something that has such a clear form in people's consciousness. But people's ideas of A Clockwork Orange tend to be based only on the first half of the story.

"In the first half, Alex and his droogs [gang-members] wreak havoc on society. In the second half the state hits back. There is a lot of cruelty in this play, in a lot of different ways, and one of the cruellest things is what happens to Alex."

Both Gardiner and director Andrew Foster feel the notoriety of the work was a product of its time.

"A Clockwork Orange shows some of the basest forms of human violence, such as rape and humiliation," say Foster. "It is a very violent piece, yet it is highly stylised and that stylisation adds distance. The film was shocking because it portrayed acts of violence that had not been seen of film before.

"But the most disturbing and shocking aspect of the work is not the violence you are being shown, but the morality that is being questioned.

"You have a central character who is irredeemable, and you are asked how much freedom can we allow individuals before we compromise society's freedom.

"Everyone remembers the first act, with Alex, this violent, aggressive youth who we are obsessed with, identify with, but by whom we are also repulsed. But ultimately, this is about mind control, repression, and freedom of choice."

Foster is working from all three sources of A Clockwork Orange: Burgess' novel, Kubrick's film, and Burgess' later stage-play.

He is making some concessions to modernity, a girl gang for example, but do not expect to see an urban Pasifika A Clockwork Orange set in 2005 Auckland. What makes the play tick, says Foster, is its sense of otherworldliness.

"In a way, A Clockwork Orange is a science fiction, an allegory, and it works best that way. It wouldn't resonate so much if it was set in Auckland now. It is a distorted, almost cartoon-like version of reality, stylised, yet recognisable."

Foster has a slew of tools to help him convey that sense of dissonance and dislocation.

He is preserving Nadsat in the dialogue, the language Burgess created for the book to capture teen slang without irrevocably dating his novel in the 60s (the book is set in an undetermined near future, the language a blend of Cockney and Russian).

"The language is one of the things that distorts a recognisable reality. Having dance in the work is something we envisaged very early on.

"It stretches our perceptions of physical form and space, and it is a nice way of creating a world influenced by a dream-like logic. The scale and nature of the performance space also creates a distance for the audience."

A Clockwork Orange is the SiLo Theatre's first production outside its own theatre walls. The play is being staged in a parking garage adjacent to the theatre, which will seat 250 people as opposed to the SiLo's usual 100.

While the garage will revert to its parking duties after the season, the space is the proposed site for a new, permanent independent theatre, to be opened in 2008.

Foster is keen to maintain the bleak, industrial qualities of the carpark.

The floor will be covered in dirt, the windows boarded over, the staging spartan in feel.

The Wellington-based director, a Chapman Tripp Award-winner for theatre design, has gained a name for devising and designing innovative, stylish, site-specific theatre works.

He cites Iets op Bach, a work by Belgian dance company Les Ballets C de la B, as a major influence.

"They use theatre directors to create dance works, and they use dancers, actors and singers on stage.

"The work had a dream-like logic, as scenes, images and ideas morphed perfectly into one another. I found it a very liberating and inspiring piece because it freed me up from thinking about the story in a linear way.

"It reminded me that story can move and flow between locations, that you don't have to leave a scene only when someone leaves the stage but when the scene is up.

"Recently, modern theatre has been bound to linear narrative and naturalistic locations, and it doesn't have to be that way."

Foster has assembled a diverse team for A Clockwork Orange.

"In the past, I've tended to drive projects with a strong idea of how they are going to turn out. This time, I am working with people who inspire me, giving them a lot of space so their ideas can influence me."

Composer Ed Cake (aka Ed McWilliams) is composing an original musical score, while choreographer Sarah Sproull is interweaving dance and movement into the play.

Actors Alex Gardiner and Jason Whyte are long-time collaborators of Foster. The cast of 17, the largest for a SiLo production to date, also features Danielle Cormack, David Aston, Kip Chapman, Cameron Rhodes, David van Horn, Aidee Walker and Fasitua Amosa.

Performance

* What: A Clockwork Orange

* Where and when: SiLo Theatre, Feb 4-March 5

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