Anthony Burgess’s 50-year-old novel A Clockwork Orange might not have seemed the most obvious candidate for adaptation to the stage.
Written and narrated in Nadsat, a concoction of colloquialisms derived from, among other sources, Russian and rhyming slang, it’s set in a futuristic but not unfamiliar world where young thug Alex, a fan of ultraviolence and Beethoven, leads his ‘‘Droogs’’ on a rampage of terror, resulting in government mind reconditioning that raises the question: is it better to be forced to be good or better to choose to be bad?
In fact, it’s been adapted for the theatre many times - including by Burgess himself - and that’s not counting the controversial 1971 film directed by Stanley Kubrick. Coming to Canberra next year as part of an Australian tour is a new production by British theatre company Action to the Word that features a clash of musical cultures with artists including David Bowie, The Scissor Sisters and Pink Floyd, counterpointed with Alex’s beloved Beethoven.
There seems to be no end to the ingenuity that can be applied to adapting even the most unlikely sources into theatre, though the results are not always greeted as resounding successes. Puppetry was used to bring the title equine in War Horse to life to much acclaim, and elaborate special effects were used to adapt Carrie, Stephen King’s novel about a telekinetic teenager, to life in a musical that was an expensive flop, although it has its defenders. And this Clockwork Orange has attracted its share of praise.
A Clockwork Orange is on at The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, from May 22 to 25. Tickets: 62752700 or canberratheatrecentre.com.au