NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK: (l-r) Darren Hart, Raphael Sowole, Ashley Hunter and Sonny Muslim
A NEW theatrical adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s cult novel A Clockwork Orange will hit the stage this week – with a black protagonist and a musical score consisting of blues, R’n’B, rap and jazz.
In short, the original book, which explored the ultra violent dystopian society of the white working class, has now received a makeover steeped in black culture.
Re-igniting the last chapter of Burgess’s phenomenal novel – which was not included in the 1971 film adaptation by director Stanley Kubrick – New Yorkers Ed DuRanté (playwright) and Fred Carl (composer) have put their own stamp on this classic tale.
Imitating the overall structure of the novel, the play follows violent delinquent Alex (Ashley Hunter) and his gang, who reek havoc in their neighbourhood. Subsequently, Alex is imprisoned and entered into The Technique; a punishing government experiment aimed at ending all crime. Finding himself in an unexpected and life-altering personal horror show, leads Alex to make a choice: redemption or downfall.
The production has been structured into three parts, but film buffs will not be able to enjoy the infamous imagery of the famous Kubrick film.
CULT CLASSIC: Malcolm McDowell starred in the 1971 film
“Most of the images that have survived when I think of A Clockwork Orange, come from the movie, which is obviously very powerful,” says DuRanté, whose previous works include the play Homeboys and the short film America. “It really has established itself as a clear visual iconography. But that wasn’t the image for us; the play is not going to look like the movie.”
Dealing with the issues of free will and responsibility in a vicious urban environment, the story will be told through black characters. In addition, it argues the point that once a human loses the ability to choose between good and evil, they are no longer human.
“We looked at the adaptation in a completely open way,” DuRanté said. “We were interested in dealing with how people perceive young black men. The damage being perpetrated by young men within society [in the novel] was an issue we wanted to transfer to the black community. The big issue is, everyone is responsible for their actions and choices, and if you don’t have a choice, then are you really a person?”
Set in an imaginary portal merging the urban areas of the UK and the USA, the piece shows the transcendence of these cultures across the world.
“Globally, the culture of many young black men is influenced by hip-hop culture,” explains Carl, whose credits include musically directing Kirsten Childs’s production The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin. “There are certain similarities between urban areas, a familiarity that is shared, like the music, the style and the sensibility.”
NEW ADAPTATION: Fred Carl (left) and Ed DuRante
In projecting A Clockwork Orange into black culture, the new adaptation takes a significant shift away from the classical music that was so significant in the novel, and incorporates a range of musical styles, including R’n’B, blues and neo-soul.
“It’s music that you do not get to hear in most musical theatres,” Carl says. “I also think it would be the kind of music that Alex and his neighborhood would be familiar with.”
The staging of this adaptation is particularly timely, in light of the recent riots that rocked the UK. With the novel exploring youth violence, it was often referenced in the media when the recent unrest impacted homes and businesses up and down the country. Clearly, the novel remains as relevant today as it was when it was published almost 50 years ago.
“Burgess really had his finger on something that obviously keeps resonating,” DuRanté says. “It was freaky for us being here [in London] during the riots, especially because the media kept bring up A Clockwork Orange. It points to the fact that the novel is timeless.”
Indeed, both the novel and the film have gone on to inspire new generations of performers, most notably R’n’B star Usher, who drew on the costumes and imagery of the film for the video for his single My Way. But while the original tale remains iconic, taking on the momentous task of re-creating it in such a specific way has not fazed the pair. And DuRante says he isn’t worried about criticism the play may receive.
“We had the challenge of adapting a brilliant novel. I assume there will be some people that will think this doesn’t look like the movie, but hopefully they will find it interesting.”
A Clockwork Orange is at Theatre Royal Stratford East, Gerry Raffles Square, London E15 from September 3-October 1. For more information, call 020 8534 0310 or visit www.stratfordeast.com