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Whilst this production does have very stylized dance moves and music, they don't make up for the old and tired themes, meandering plot, and off-putting Nadsat lingo.

Theatre Review (Singapore): ‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Anthony Burgess

Action to the Word’s tour of A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess brought the play to Singapore from the 4th to 8th November 2015, at the Esplanade Theatres.


This stage version of A Clockwork Orange (usually subtitled “A Play with Music”) tells the same tale as the book and movie with the same name, the story of Alex (Jonno Davies) and his gangster friends who terrorise their town with criminal antics that include rape and murder. When Alex gets caught one day, he is offered experimental psychological conditioning in order to get an early release. Accepting, he is reconditioned to feel sick at the thought of violence and sex. But is this going to be a permanent change?

The novella A Clockwork Orange was written in 1962 and the acclaimed and infamous movie was made in 1971 by Stanley Kubrick. This musical/stage version came about in 2011 when it was created for the London Fringe, some 40 years after the movie, and almost 50 years after the book. Hence the themes and messages are showing their age.

The themes – of control verses free choice (especially government control), of violent and hypersexual teenage behaviour and angst, and of homoeroticism (which emerged first in the film version and carries over to this stage adaptation) all feel terribly dated and uninspiring in this play. In the 40-50 years since the book and movie, we’ve seen many many television programs, motion pictures and plays tackle these issues, especially that of homoeroticism, more deeply and better.

Also, in today’s world, the plot of A Clockwork Orange would be called meandering and tedious, with too many implausible conveniences thrown in, in what what we’d now term ‘lazy writing’. For example, the lady whom Alex murders has a husband whom Alex cripples – and coincidentally, when released from prison, Alex finds himself in this man’s house.

In addition Nadsat, the fictional language the characters in the book, movie and play speak, is really gibberish to the average English speaker and fills too much of the production. With even the language not understandable, you’re left even more unmotivated to follow the plot. Maybe once upon a time Burgess was heralded for making up his own language, but in this day and age it’s a turn-off.

Overall, whilst this production does have very stylized dance moves and music, they don’t make up for the old and tired themes, meandering plot, and off-putting Nadsat lingo.

And just how irrelevant are the themes today? Ironically, Singapore banned the movie and book for 40 years, but lifted the ban in 2011. So if Singapore’s decision makers have already come around to accepting violent and sexual (including homosexual) behaviours, clearly the shock value A Clockwork Orange had once upon a time just isn’t here anymore.

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About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.

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