‘A Clockwork Orange’ at the Progress Theatre

By Gillie Tunley and Matthew Farrall.

‘A Clockwork Orange’ at the Progress Theatre. Photo (c) Richard Brown

The fabulous Progress Theatre Company take us on a dystopian romp in their latest production of A Clockwork Orange, based on Anthony Burgess‘s cult novel and tautly directed by Matt Tully.

The action opens on a minimalistic monochrome set, moodily lit, to the sublime strains of Beethoven’s fifth, Moog synthesized. The anti-social Alex (compellingly played by the charismatic Josh Boden), whose interests include classical music (especially the lovely Ludwig) and ‘ultra violence’, rampages with his delinquent droogs on a crime orgy… the menace subtly lightened by the slickly choreographed fight sequences (by the ingenious David Parsonson). They communicate in nadsat, a fractured adolescent slang and spend their nights getting high at the Korova Milk Bar… until the unspeakable happens; murder.

We shift to the gloom of a prison and inmate no 6655321. He is accompanied by his arrow-suited droogs, who perform their belligerent broom dance routine, set to It’s a hard Knock Life from Annie… a darkly comedic moment.

‘A Clockwork Orange’ at the Progress Theatre. Photo (c) Richard Brown

The State intervenes in the shape of the Minister of the Interior (played with hilarious irony by the versatile Peter Cook – we also loved his tweed flat cap portrayal of ‘dad’), abetted by his capable assistant (the obsequious Dylan Yates).

Alex is subjected to horrific anti-violence ‘Brodsky’ conditioning by two efficient and dispassionate white-coated doctors (the magnificent and multi-faceted Megan Turnell and the menacingly implacable Sadie Whitlow). Alex becomes a “mere engine, incapable of human love”.

‘A Clockwork Orange’ at the Progress Theatre. Photo (c) Richard Brown

The troubled chaplain (powerfully played by the mesmeric Debarshi Bandyopadhyay) lifts the moral mood of this dark place of incarceration as he questions the state’s right to impinge on individual liberty. “It may not be nice to be good, it may be horrible to be good”.

Fast forward to a rehabilitated and more mature Alex, who has by now turned his thoughts to adolescent love! The cast unite in an uplifting chorus of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy in a joyous affirmation of human freedom.

The entire cast and crew are to be congratulated on a thoroughly thought-provoking production, which explores the themes of adolescence, social responsibility and the freedom of choice with both sensitivity and humour. We left the theatre with a feeling of hope and redemption.

Footnote: Wardrobe are also to be congratulated on a huge dystopic triumph!

‘A Clockwork Orange’ at the Progress Theatre. Photo (c) Richard Brown

Matthew Farrall.

This play challenges your moral and ethical senses and it somehow manages to be funny too. Partly due to the excellence of the lead actor and cast, there is a tangible feeling in the second act that Alex is hard done by.

But can his terrible crimes possibly be accepted as a rite of passage or even as a robotic response to puberty? Are his crimes so terrible the authorities would be justified in taking his free will away? The loss of his love of Beethoven is strangely seen as the ultimate horrible consequence in another nod to our liberal and cultural sensitivities. We mostly try to be liberal until someone nicks our bike; this is where I feel the audience are being justifiably mocked. After all, hasn’t this play’s prophecy partly become true?

‘A Clockwork Orange’ at the Progress Theatre. Photo (c) Richard Brown

I grew up in Whitley, used the teenage vernacular of the time and tried to avoid the peer pressure to commit crimes, although on much lesser scale than Alex, so this is far more familiar to me than is comfortable. Like any great drama there is no ultimate answer, but a series of sign posts pointing in all directions and you would be foolish to follow any one with great certainty.

This production shows how difficult and edgy any rape or sexual exploitation scene has become; I remember how frequently these scenes appeared in film and drama before the last decade or so; it has become very difficult to portray now. In the first act these moments were shown cleverly when combined with the nadsat language and mime, but after the interval, it was incredible how the sight of a nearly nude female actor was shocking, even though totally in context, to show how Alex had been cured of bestial lust.

It would be wrong just to concentrate on the greater themes though, as it was also simply a great night at the theatre. These accomplished actors made this play entertaining, engrossing, interesting and at times darkly funny. After the play we humble critics could only tell the players how good they were, but this is no sycophancy as they were superb and this production will be an absolute smash hit.

‘A Clockwork Orange’ at the Progress Theatre. Photo (c) Richard Brown

‘A Clockwork Orange’ runs at the Progress Theatre, The Mount, RG1 5HL from Monday 19 February until Saturday 24 February. Tickets can be bought online.

  1. The Progress Theatre website and Facebook page
  2. ‘A Clockwork Orange’ at the Progress Theatre
  3. Progress Theatre tickets