a production at the Arcola earlier in the year that I wasn't convinced by, Action To The Word's Edinburgh hit rocks up at Soho Theatre as an unlikely Christmas offering. Burgess' notes for the 1986 adaptation are rather bizarre, and his apparent lack of enthusiasm for the project makes it unsurprising it originally flopped. Having knocked out the novella over three weeks in 1960 when he thought he was dying, he remained frustrated that it became his signature piece above works he considered superior; and only wrote his own stage adaptation to stop other people from doing so, and to make sure it had his original ending (which was ditched from US editions of the book.)
With this unprepossessing genesis in mind it's not surprising that director Alexandra Spencer-Jones has, although sticking pretty much to Burgess' script, felt free to liberally impose a new identity on the piece (crucially, one which pays no lip service to the film.) The story remains the dystopian vision of Alex (Martin McCreadie,) teenage leader of a violent group of droogs, who after one vicious spree too many is sent first to prison, then to extreme aversion therapy to wipe out his ability to do evil. But along with that go his free will, ability to appreciate beauty, and even survive in the world he's released back into.
One bonus of the beautifully-choreographed (by Hannah Lee) movement is that the half-English half-Russian futuristic slang Alex and his droogs speak in is less alienating in the initial stages than usual. But again, you could argue that it's meant to be alienating at first.
For all the spitting, kicking and sweating there's something beautiful about this show, and although it makes it worth seeing that's not necessarily a good thing - some of the cruelty just doesn't come across, and for all that Alex is horribly abused in the second half of the play, the audience's sympathy for him comes a bit too easily if the full extent of his psychotic viciousness in the first half has been partly masked by the impressive movement work.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess is booking until the 5th of January at Soho Theatre.
Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes straight through.