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A Clockwork Orange at Brisbane Arts Theatre

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by Brian McIver (subscribe)
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A bit of the old ultraviolence
a clockwork orange, brisbane arts theatre
Image courtesy of Brisbane Arts Theatre

"Do not be a clockwork orange, freedom has a lovely voice.

Here is good and there is evil, look on both then take your choice" Ensemble, A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange (6 January 17th February) explores an ultra-violent, disenfranchised youth culture, the concurrent clash with authority, and complete lack of compassion exhibited by the story's main characters. First published as a book in 1962, author Anthony Burgess also created the theatrical adaptation in 1987. A Clockwork Orange will confront an audience's acceptance of violence and remind us of the part religion and authority can play in creating intense chaos. There is redemption, but we wonder if it is satisfactory.

A Clockwork Orange will include two separate casts; one with all-male Droogs and one with all-female Droogs. This was the decision of Brisbane Arts Theatre's Artistic Director, John Boyce. He wanted to explore our perception of violence as associated with a specific gender. Brave audiences are encouraged to see both and observe their own their different reactions.

As much as A Clockwork Orange challenges an audience, it is also a great challenge to directors Bronwyn Morrow and Greg Scurr. A piece of contemporary, eclectic theatre containing realism, physical theatre, choreographed fight sequences, the play features occasional references to the cult movie directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1971. However, Burgess wrote the play in reaction to Kubrick's film, so Morrow and Scurr warn against expecting a staged version of the screenplay.

Aficionados won't be disappointed, but audiences who are open to new ideas will also have something to talk about.

Interestingly, the play incorporates Anthony Burgess' original score (instrument and vocal) and references Ludwig von Beethoven's 9th, 7th and 5th Symphonies, Moonlight Sonata and Ode to Joy which support the tone and pace of the play. Listening to the juxtaposition of such classical music and Alex ravaging the borders of social norms is truly disturbing.

Regular patrons of the Brisbane Arts Theatre know that the space is extremely intimate, and you leave with a sense of having participated as well as having observed. But A Clockwork Orange is a different beast altogether. The silence in between dialogue is a little too long and awkward, the music is a little too loud and unsettling, and the cast stare a little too close and uncomfortably at you. Most challenging is that you can't look away from the violence or Alex's manic expressions.

In the book, Anthony Burgess explored the notion of 'choice' and 'freewill' and what happens when that is taken away. If it is taken away, then human nature (the natural being) no longer exists. What that 'natural being' decides to do when given the choice is up to him or her.

We all know there are women who offend and commit violent crimes. Perhaps it is something we either don't think about or morally can't accept. Violence is not an exclusive male domain. Today, serving women in the military are expected to commit the same type of violence within their roles as their male colleagues. We have also celebrated some women in history who committed violent crimes (Joan of Arc). Whilst we know consciously that women can be violent offenders, seeing women perpetuating violence on stage in an intimate theatre may be confronting and divisive.

If we see an article about a woman who has perpetuated a violent crime in the newspaper, we are unable to accept she may be representative of a larger group of women and not contrary to our innate wishes an extraordinary exception to the rule (being that women by nature are hard-wired to be caring and nurturing, classic stereotype).

By casting women in this role, the directors will challenge the audience to reconsider reality. That, in fact, a violent woman is not an exception to the rule, but a representative of a broader subset of the female gender.

Male violence against women in the 1970s was hugely topical. In recent weeks, male violence/assault against women has been once again topical. The campaign #metoo focused on this dimension only. With the allegations of assault now being levelled against Kevin Spacey by a boy, these perceptions are once again challenged. Men and children too have been victims, not only of men but of women too. This is a conversation about the nature of violence only and how it is a personal choice.

The unique job of the directors is to reveal the depths of Alex's character to the point where the audience feels empathy for him. Morrow says that A Clockwork Orange is not about violence. It is about individual choice in conflict with government or institution's imposed will.

However, you may feel about violence in society, challenging those feelings by seeing this play will certainly give you food for thought.

Getting to Brisbane Arts Theatre is very easy. Located at 210 Petrie Terrace, it's only around an 800-metre walk from Roma St Station. Plan your journey with Translink here

If you prefer to drive, there is free 4-hour parking available on either side of Petrie Terrace after 7pm on weekdays and at all times on the weekend. On Suncorp Stadium game days, Petrie Terrace is excluded from the Lang Park Traffic Area's 15-minute restrictions. To avoid a parking fine, do not park in the side streets during events, which are limited to 15 minutes where unsigned. Alternative parking is available on Countess St below Hargraves Park, parallel to the Busway.

To keep up with this and upcoming events at the Brisbane Arts Theatre, make sure to like their Facebook page.
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Why? A challenging look at violence in society
When: Check website for session times
Where: 210 Petrie Terrace, Petrie Terrace QLD 4000
Cost: Check website for ticket costs, discounts available for groups
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