Director of Clockwork Orange, which is coming to Poole next month, answers quesitons
THE iconic production of A Clockwork Orange comes to Lighhouse, Poole's Centre for the Arts, on 23-25th September.
Director Alexandra Spencer-Jones talks about how she approached this iconic story to maintain its relevance 50 years after it was written.
Q. What is it about A Clockwork Orange that makes it so relevant to each new generation?
A. Burgess has created a novel and we’ve created a play that puts the audience in the driving seat. He leaves things nice and loose and allows us to fill in the gaps. He’ll say things like, ‘And what happened next, o my brothers, I cannot say’ – inevitably our imaginations bring us right up to date. Whilst there is a government letting us down every which way and dissatisfaction in the young there will always be a relevant Clockwork Orange. More simply – it’s terribly cool, we’ve all an Alex inside us and when we read the book or watch the play, we’re allowed to be ‘bad’ for a while.
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Q.It’s such an iconic story, how do you go about bringing something fresh to its telling – if indeed you need to at all?
A. Our big priority was ditching the bowler hats and extra eye-lashes. Expelling Kubrick from Burgess was hard, especially for such a big fan of the movie and Kubrick in general – a total master. We absolutely followed the book as Bible, down to the way Alex dreams and the physical sequences in our production that segue between the spoken text. The big twist we’ve taken is performing the show with an all-male cast. A Clockwork Orange is a play about testosterone and what it is to be a boy – I wondered how exciting it would be to see Alex’s world through those eyes. What we have is a pressure cooker. I’m often asked is the production ‘gay’ because it is all-male, I just don’t look at the world like that – people are people, they attract what they will. The Clockwork company houses 10 powerhouse actors playing between them 74 roles, women, men, old, young – just acting.
Q. You’ve assembled an all-male cast and the production is very physical – how do you handle and direct all that testosterone?
A. Touring around Australia, the only woman of the touring company was interesting to say the least – not least because I desperately missed by assistant director, Maddy Mutch. That having been said I’ve always enjoyed working with men. Primarily Action To The Word create Shakespeare and obviously the bulk of the work comes into male hands, so it’s definitely where I work most. The boys keep themselves in good shape and work hard and play hard as a group – lots of poker nights and pool games whilst we were away, they’re very close. As for testosterone – they beat each other to death on stage but in the wings and the pub they’re all a band of brothers.
Q. Burgess was not that well disposed to stage versions of his book – and disliked the attention afforded Kubrick’s film – what do you think he would have made of this production?
A. It’s a very interesting question. I know when we first started out The Burgess Estate, who do amazing work, were concerned that the gender choices would undermine some of the more taboo incidents within the script. When they saw the piece they loved it and gave it their stamp of approval. We’ve received a lot of press claiming that its loyalty to the book is one of a kind and I’m very proud of that. As I said, I love the film but the book is a million times better. Burgess loved his Shakespeare and our attack and love of the language is Shakespearean. He’d have loved the show.
Q. How did you first encounter A Clockwork Orange and what impression did it make on you?
A. A brilliant/naughty English teacher who taught outside the box gave me the novella on the quiet when I was 15. I hid it under my pillow and read it all in one night. Then again the next night and about 100 times since. It’s a stunning novella, hilarious and sexy – laced in taboo and controversy.
Q. What do you feel about Alex and what happens to him?
A.It’s tough. I know he deliberately harms people, hurts with little consequence. You cannot end lives, you cannot rape people. As his director, however, it’s important to see things from his side. You need to look to his background and some of his logic in the play. One cannot play God, one cannot change nature. Take Darwin on this… the good will out. In the end, after all, Alex himself makes the decision to come away from a life of crime. The drama comes in the mess he leaves in his journey. I sort of have to be in love with him to direct him fairly. He is elegant, charismatic, hilarious, witty, intelligent, cultured beyond his background… whatever else he is (millions of things) he is not, and this is the important thing, a villain.
Q. How do audiences respond to Nadsat?
A. We’ve never struggled in the UK. It was tougher over in Australia as they were competing with Mancunian accents too, but we’ve always had great praise about our treatment of the text. Lots of it is instantly recognisable and after the first couple of minutes you are brought totally on board. There is also a physical language to the piece that’s easy to follow.
Q. Does society need demons to unite against, people like Alex perhaps?
A. Oh perhaps. There are full huge theories on this, read The Psychopath Test. To be Alex becomes a hero, a sort of warped Christ-like figure – a scapegoat. There are characters in the piece reminiscent of Cameron – they’re our real demons, the people who hold the country’s purse-strings.
Q.Is it better for a man to have chosen evil than to have good imposed upon him?
A. I change all the time, but mainly I think people are animals and shouldn’t be tampered with. There is no good without bad or vice versa.