As I approached the Old Joint Stock in Birmingham, I was a little sceptical about what lay in store for me. Stanley Kubrick’s cult 1970s film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange is so iconic that it must be tempting for any contemporary director to try to emulate the dystopian world his film so well encapsulates. However, director Adam Carver (a previous University of Birmingham student) turned the play on its head through a variety of fascinating concepts.
Being greeted by a ‘droog’ and lead by the hand into ‘the milk bar’ was the first hint of the immersive experience I was in for whilst watching A Clockwork Orange at the Old Joint Stock. The audience were seated at tables in the bar, forcibly fed milk and milk bottle sweets and often brought right into the core of the onstage action. Despite being a drama student, my blood runs cold at the thought of audience participation; however the nature with which the six actors involved the audience was admirably tongue-in-cheek, guided and non-pressured. Throughout the hour and a half, members were made to switch seats and minutely input. Through this device Carver and his company successfully broke the fourth wall, thereby making the audience feel partially complicit in the heinous crimes we witness onstage.
For those unfamiliar with the story, it is the tale of Alex, a young boy in London who lives a life of disturbing violence and delinquency. His passions for rape and ‘ultra-violence’ are matched only by his love for classical music. Tin Robot’s production made a fantastic feature of this by incorporating frequent interludes of electronic remixes of Beethoven’s greatest works, including the Ninth Symphony. This was accompanied brilliantly by flashing lights and reverberating white noise, all making for an intense, aggressive atmosphere to match the acts of turmoil portrayed.
Carter made the ingeniously fresh idea of multi-roling the protagonist Alex between his six players in the style of a video game; each actor would step forward, remove his or her boiler suit to reveal slick black clothing, then reach their hand up, transfixed on a projection reading ‘new player’. Thereby, he or she would take over the role. The six actors, Touwa Craig-Dunn, Catherine Butler, Gracey Hussey-Burd, Jacob Lovick, Joel Heritage and Jack Robertson, must all be commended for their consistent yet subtly varied portrayals of our complex anti-hero. Lovick in particular stood out through his visceral and thoroughly disturbing depiction of a young boy tortured and then left an empty shell. The supporting characters were played with equal aplomb and dedication; exaggerated physicality and stylised characterisation was used to create varying friends or foes passing through Alex’s chaotic, destructive existence. Robertson’s overtly flamboyant, pious reverend was executed brilliantly, as was the patronising, robotic minister played by the excellent Butler.
Tin Robot Theatre’s production was a veritable treat. Physical, barefaced and grotesque, Carver’s interpretation perhaps left such an impression as it did the impossible by bringing out the humour from Antony Burgess’s novella. A Clockwork Orange has the capacity to turn into a didactic, dated piece, however the sheer pace and energy with which the production was executed made it impossible to leave the Old Joint Stock without a smile on your face, despite the ‘horror show’ the audience had witnessed. A truly fascinating and distinctive production which won’t be forgotten in a hurry – I look forward to seeing what Tin Robot do next!