Preview: A Clockwork Orange

The restoration of Anthony Burgess’s musical score to his stage version of his novel A Clockwork Orange adds yet another layer to the polymath’s fearful tale, taking it even further from the film

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Bring to mind the dark, dystopian youth cult tale A Clockwork Orange and you’ll probably think of Anthony Burgess’s original 1962 novel or Stanley Kubrick’s celebrated film version from 1971. You’re less likely to think of the stage musical adaptation that Burgess wrote in the 1980s. It’s very rarely staged, and almost never complete with the Beethoven-heavy score he created to go with it.

But Liverpool Everyman is now bringing Burgess’s play with music to the stage intact, directed by Everyman associate director Nick Bagnall. Bagnall says: “Everybody’s shied away from Burgess’s score but we’ve put all of that in, which means that the play has an odd quality about it. The violence is juxtaposed with this extraordinarily beautiful music by Beethoven, so it’s a kind of terrifying beast.”

Kubrick’s film left a mighty legacy where A Clockwork Orange is concerned, but Bagnall reckons that Burgess consciously designed his musical version to shake it off. “The first time I ever heard the score, I went: ‘That’s how you get the film out of your head.’

“In the opening scene, he gives the droogs a song straight away and instantly you’re in a kind of music hall, cabaret world that’s nothing to do with the Kubrick version. You hear the Beethoven and all of a sudden you go: ‘Wow, this doesn’t really seem like A Clockwork Orange.’ But that’s the point. The film has hijacked all our thoughts. Even the book comes second to Kubrick’s film.

“I think the stage version was about Burgess getting back to the muscle of that book, which is riddled with Beethoven, Schoenberg and Mozart. I absolutely adore the film and it’s useful, up to a point. But if I’m honest, research-wise Burgess’s life and Burgess’s music is far more exciting than the film.”

Burgess had a keen interest in classical music and indeed was a prolific composer himself, once declaring: “I wish people would think of me as a musician who writes novels, instead of a novelist who writes music on the side.”

For this production, his score has been arranged by James Fortune and Peter Mitchell, with multi-instrumentalist Mitchell performing it live. Bagnall says: “Pete’s in the space with us and he plays all the soundtrack on percussion and timpani drums like he’s at the Philharmonic. It’s really interesting. He’s like the soundtrack in Alex’s mind.”

A cast of just eight actors will be bringing a world of 25 characters to life, led by George Caple as chief droog Alex. Bagnall says: “George brings a natural menace and a natural charm, which are the two perfect ingredients for Alex. I think he’s going to be extraordinary.

“It’s going to be very visceral. You’re going to feel like you’re involved in it, without ever feeling like you’re being attacked. You’ll see a group of actors creating this incredibly abstract, odd world. It’s a piece of theatre that’s going to punch you in the stomach, but it’s also going to leave you feeling like you’ve been part of a poetic choice that we’re making. It’s actually quite a short play but it really packs a punch, this. It’s a short, sharp shock.”

A Clockwork Orange, Liverpool Everyman (, 14 April-12 July

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