I have found ‘A Clockwork Orange’ to bring either utter revulsion or immense delectation to its receivers. Anthony Burgess’s polarising dystopian novel follows Alex, a violent, sadistic teenager who wreaks havoc with his gang of ‘droogs’ in England’s near-future. It is a dark, chilling and highly controversial novel that shines light on the social and political murkiness of its characters and society. These features of the novel meant Hild Bede Theatre were challenged from the very beginning by such an audacious but potentially dangerous choice for their summer performance. Seeing how HBT would tackle such a notorious novel may well be the reason the play attracted such a large audience and was definitely the reason why I was first in line to buy my ticket.
The second the curtains open we are thrown into an energetic scene led by protagonist Alex (Tim Blore) and his ‘droogs’ (Edward Wheatley, Angharad Phillips and George McNeilly). The ‘ultra-violent’ rampage that follows sustains the strange yet exciting atmosphere director Josh Williams created in this opening scene and has maintained throughout the rest of the play. To see such enthusiasm and ebullience from the cast so immediately and consistently and to simultaneously know that the show was put on in little over a week epitomises why HBT is such a prominent name within the colossal DST universe.
Clever lighting and makeup added darkness in all the right places and the classical music during scene changes was a nice touch. A minimalist set with only the bare essentials and an eerie pair of bloodied bodies either side of the stage were all that was needed as nothing was to distract the audience from the generally engrossing acting taking place. The audience loved Rory Barnes for his endearing characterisation of the Prison Chaplain. The continuous swigs from his hip flask and uncannily pleasant reference to Alex by his prison number ‘6655321’ drew all the laughs.
The scene when Alex is shown graphic images after his ‘treatment’ by Dr Brodsky is one of the best in the play. The perfect contrast of the eloquent, confident and subtly sinister Dr. Brodsky (Lily Morgan) against the now dehumanised, conditioned, lifeless Alex sitting in excruciating pain made me feel sympathy for the character I detested only minutes before.
The play had me glued to my seat, not wanting to miss any moment. Unfortunately, several parts of the play where characters were on the floor could not be seen by the majority of the audience due to the flat seating, something which was irritating but couldn’t really be avoided.
The rightful star of the show is undoubtedly Tim Blore. His mesmerising and awe-inspiring portrayal of such a complex character causes the audience to fixate on him during every moment he is on stage. He oscillates between malicious sociopath and abused victim with ease and closes the play as a reflective adult with clear maturity. His ability to flow through difficult Nasdat lines with an unfailing accent illustrates the abundant time and effort he has committed to the role. His imminent departure from the Durham drama scene will be a huge loss.
As with all plays, A Clockwork Orange was not without its minor mishaps. For example, one scene change dragged out for far too long, once or twice props were dropped and certain cues could have been responded to sooner. However, none of this really mattered as the actors held their own in all cases and these events were soon forgotten.
All in all, HBT can be pleased with a strong performance. The limited time, contentious plot and awkwardness of Caedmon Hall all were handled well by the cast and crew. Although one may not be the biggest fan of the play itself, it cannot be denied that everyone in the audience witnessed something great on stage.