It’s been more than 50 years since Anthony Burgess’ dystopian novella A Clockwork Orange first shocked the literary world, and 42 years since Stanley Kubrick’s big-screen adaptation brought the graphic tale of teenage frustration and violence to life.
A critically-acclaimed stage adaptation will soon tour Australia with an impressive all-male cast. As actor Martin McCreadie (who plays Orange’s anti-hero, Alex) told the Star Observer, the story is more relevant than ever.
“[Look at] the amount of disgruntled and unemployed youth there are throughout the civilized world at present, particularly in European countries like Greece, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus,” he said.
“There are a lot of young people who have completed their studies or training only to be told there are no jobs and that basic future security is pie in the sky.”
In the futuristic version of England that is A Clockwork Orange’s setting, Alex leads his friends – a group of similarly disaffected teens – on nightly bouts of violence. Their anger at their own lack of a future manifests itself in socially destructive ways, as the gang act out with horrific cruelty towards whoever is unlucky enough to get in their way.
How did McCreadie approach his role, given Alex’s indisputably abhorrent actions in the play? Did he have to, if not like the character, come to some sort of understanding of Alex’s motives?
“It’s very easy, perhaps dangerously so, to slip into the viewpoint of the character I’m playing. I do genuinely believe that although Alex does some distasteful things, he does so not without cause, and he is brutally honest about how and why he goes about his business.
“Given the amount of dishonesty and lies that many people are subjected to on a day to day basis in real life, I think this honesty that Alex wields, no matter how horrific, is actually part of his allure.”
The second half of the play takes another dark turn as Alex’s obsession with violence eventually results in his imprisonment and participation in the distressing ‘Ludovico experiment’, which claims to decriminalise convicts in two weeks through drastic psychological conditioning. This none-too-subtle allusion to gay conversion ‘therapy’ is just one of many queer elements in A Clockwork Orange, and as the shirtless publicity pictures of the muscled-up cast show, this particular production isn’t shying away from the play’s homoerotic subtext.
“Given the all-male ensemble, and the sexual overtones of the piece, homoeroticism is inescapable. My character carries out probably the most brutal sexual acts on some of the other male characters in the story, just as he would on women in a ‘straight’ version,” said McCreadie, who also noted he’d detected some latent homophobia in audiences and critics who’d been repelled by the show’s overt displays of homosexuality.
“Alex utilises his sexuality as a weapon. He understands how powerful sex can be in controlling or enlightening the people around him, so it is amongst his arsenal of weapons.”
INFO: A Clockwork Orange plays Melbourne’s Malthouse April 6-21 before heading to Sydney, Perth, Canberra, Brisbane. www.aclockworkorange.com.au