21 April 2012

A Clockwork Orange at the Arcola Theatre

The Arcola Theatre in Dalston continues to deliver exciting theatre and that is why I keep going back there despite living on the other side of town.

Normally that is an easy, if long, journey around the North London Line but weekend maintenance works forced me along the more complex, and expensive, route through the centre of London using the Northern and Victoria Lines.

It was still comfortably worth the effort.

I have never read the book and have only seen the film a couple of times following its withdrawal in the UK and the subsequent reluctance to show it that frequently and before midnight.

The play both copies themes from the film (which probably came from the book originally) and also distances itself from it. So we get lots of milk and strange words but whereas the film is relentlessly white at time the predominant colour of the play is back.

And that's my excuse for failing to take a decent photo of the set.

All I could manage is this murky shot taken on my phone as the audience settled down.

The mood was set immediately with the five cast on a dark stage, dressed identically and behaving strangely, e.g. some blundered around blind-folder while others polished shoes excessively.

The story was as I remembered it from the couple of times that I have seen the film but the delivery was very different and much more theatrical.

The story was told through a series of short scenes each introduced by one of the actors to tell us where we were and what we were witnessing, all very necessary when the cast and stage do not change.

The cast kept busy even when they were not the focus of these scene. What Kept them busy did not always seem to have anything to do with the story, such as the memorable feat one of them performed by walking with a pint of milk balanced on the side of his head and then getting down on to the floor with the milk still in place.

I liked the way that they portrayed the infamous extreme violence that gave the film its problems. The victim cavorted on the floor as if being severely beaten without any of the assailants doing anything violent or even being that close.

That also cleverly put the focus on the violence and the victim and so heightened the sense of dystopia.

Indeed the dystopia runs deep throughout the play and is the point of the play. The story strings the scenes together but I suspect they would work just as well if they were played in a random order.

And work they do. A Clockwork Orange is not just different it's different in a very good way. It's a rather special show that haunts, disturbs, confuses and overwhelms.

There is so much to see and so much to think about but so little time to do either as the show continues its relentless pace without even the luxury of an intermission in which to catch your breath.

The Arcola theatre helps with the total immersion by bringing you close to the action and involving you in it. The marriage between play and theatre is perfect.

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