Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Innovative Welsh Company Take on the Notorious "Clockwork Orange" - interview with the cast and show review

Volcano: A Clockwork Orange
Taliesin Arts Centre
22nd October 2011

 Interview by Chelsey Gillard and Rachel Williams
photographs kindly supplied by Volcano

Tucked away on Swansea High Street, Volcano Theatre’s cast are rehearsing for their approaching UK tour of A Clockwork Orange. Volcano have made their home in an intriguing empty space – initially for their 1977 original production Volcano are now resident there long term. The space is misleading as its small front room with scattered sofas and chairs opens on to a bigger, industrial space where artists and actors are able to take over, to rehearse and develop new pieces.

Between preparations two Young Critics catch them for a quick chat.  

The cast: Paul Coldrick, Billy Rayner, Kyle Edward-Hubbard, Mairi Phillips and Alex Moran
The cast are a varied group, coming from a range of nationalities; ranging from a Scot in Mairi Phillips and a strong American accent in Billy Rayner. There also seems to be quite an age gap, between the innocent, fresh faces of Alex Moran and Kyle Edward-Hubbard to the more experienced world-wise cockney Paul Coldrick.

Our Chat with the Cast:

First things first, what five words would you use to describe the show?
After much debate between themselves and some questionable hyphens, five words just couldn’t quite cover all the ideas covered in the show. The resulting eight words the cast decided upon were: Energetic, Full-on, Weird, Challenging, Beautiful, Funny, Spooky.

With the recent riots in London A Clockwork Orange appears to have more validity in today’s society, unlike the 60’s when Burgess’ believed that the Soviet Union would take over Britain and everything in between. Do you think the story holds even more relevance for today’s audience?  
Of course and riots are mentioned but work actually started on the show well before the London riots so we don’t want the focus to be on that but the fact that this is a great adaptation of the book. The story is all about pushing boundaries, youth aggression, adult fear and the lack of police so there are definite parallels there. Anthony Burgess was certainly ahead of his time, he predicted that footballers would be paid ridiculous amounts and we would all use TVs, so there is definitely something to be taken from the text in today’s society.

Burgess invented a new language, Nadsat, that the teens in A Clockwork Orange speak. As it is a mix of English, Russian, Gypsy, Cockney rhyming slang and all sorts of other languages do you worry that the audience won’t understand you?
No, not at all. The Nadsat words carry a lot of weight and emotion so even though the exact meanings may not be understood, they still make sense in context. It’s quite similar to watching Shakespeare, at first the language can be difficult but you soon pick bits and pieces up and everything makes sense in its own way.

The role of Alex is split between each of you; please explain how that has worked?
Alex is the narrator of the story and so we have all become narrators. We are all different and have our own interpretation of the character so by sharing the role we can each bring something different to the stage. Alex is a complex mind and hopefully you get that through the way we have chosen to stage it. Also this suits Volcano’s ethic better, there is no hierarchy, no lead role, everyone is equal and everyone’s contribution counts.

Mairi, being the only woman in a play centred on ultraviolent, male behaviour do you think you had more of a challenge than the men?
No, not at all. It hasn’t really been an issue, most of the time gender isn’t even an issue, I’m just playing Alex. The only time I play a woman is as Alex’s mother, I’m not there to be a rape victim. I think it has been really challenging for all of us.

In the book, music is a very big part of Alex’s life, how has music influenced the production?
Actually the music is only just starting to come in. We wanted the scenes to have their own weight first, without having to rely on dramatic music. It’s there to add another dimension rather than overpower the scene.

Lastly, we asked Volcano what the inspiration was behind the picture of a young boy as the promotional material:
It shows a balance between innocence and aggression, both are looming at you from the picture. Although he is a young angelic looking boy there is a lot of action going on behind him. It’s open to a lot of different interpretations, perhaps it could be Alex as a young boy or maybe even Alex’s future child.

As a Theatre company Volcano are very much up for pushing boundaries and not holding back, for 25 years they have made extraordinary theatre, provoking and stimulating with strong yet unpredictable performances. With this in mind, A Clockwork Orange ought to be done justice as a performance. Keep reading to find out how these ideas translated onto the stage and what we thought of the performance..... 

A balancing act between good and evil.

What I Thought of the Production:
review by Chelsey Gillard
Take one of the most controversial stories of the last century and give it to a theatre company that prides itself on being “disruptive, immoderate, responsible and bold” and the result is guaranteed to be explosive. Volcano’s original stage adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s “A Clockwork Orange” certainly didn’t disappoint.

This version of the dystopian tale of Alex and his ultraviolent “droogs” focussed on the moral tale rather than plot and left out many influential characters from the book. The role of Alex was played in turn and sometimes simultaneously by the five cast members; this allowed the audience different routes into the mind of this teen terror. Each actor had their own way of presenting not only his vile, destructive side but also his vulnerable, mixed-up adolescent hormones. Even though new comers to the story many not have completely understood the ins and out of the plot they would have been left with a strong image of Alex and the debate about free will VS enforced goodness will certainly stay with them.

As you follow the gang of youth criminals on their drug fuelled adventures it’s impossible not to encounter their unsavoury actions. Volcano’s sensitive and intelligent interpretation managed to take the shock factor away from those scenes, allowing the audience to view the action in an objective way, rather than be shocked and disgusted. In true Brechtian style the audience was given a brief summary of each scene before it happened, also allowing Alex, the “humble narrator” to develop a relationship with the spectators. The rape scene was navigated with the use of Barbie dolls and violence was portrayed through contortionist tap-dance. Alex’s final crime before being incarcerated, the burglary and murder of an old lady was repeated over and over bringing a dark humour to the play and through farce it illustrated the vulnerability of the rough-tough gang leader. 

Vunerable and Alone.

The action from Alex’s arrest onwards seemed a little rushed and the demonstration of the mind-washing Ludovico technique wasn’t as powerful as it could have been. In this ground-breaking procedure, the criminal is injected with drugs that make them feel nauseous, whilst they are forced to watch violent films, therefore each time they even think of something violent they will feel sick and be incapable of committing violent crime. A short onstage debate about the difference between how we in Britain treat our criminals and the death penalty attitude of America gave a lot of food for thought and set the audiences’ mind thinking about whether it is better to have an almost automatronic boy who is capable of no harm or whether free will should always win, even if that means violence and crime. 


Presented in a somewhat Epic style, this performance managed to foreground a serious political message about the state of youth culture whilst appealing to the animalistic, visceral side of human nature. Use of on stage TV screens and projections added depth to the action, often offering a different perspective to the really powerful set movement pieces or giving an insight into Alex’s mind.

Volcano decided to keep the novel’s original ending in which Alex, after a failed suicide attempt is cured of the Ludovico Technique but tires of his ultraviolent pastimes. He begins to muse upon the possibility of having a child himself and whether that child will follow in his footsteps. As these words were spoken two of the cast performed a really touching piece of movement that for me summed up the reasons for Alex’s actions; if he had been given good support and good role models maybe he would have be able to support himself and lead a better life. This tortured youth had been mistreated and let down by every adult he encountered; from his parents through childhood to the power abusing doctors in prison. Yet even after this neglect Alex shows the possibility of change, there is a small glimmer of hope for this hopeless young man. 


A really sensitive and intelligent adaptation that managed to be innovative and truthful. It really dug to the heart of the novel and completely destroyed the negative attitudes surrounding this story due to the notorious 1970s film. The production is on tour until the end of November, be sure to catch this show “oozing with juice and sweetness”. Real “khorosho”.

Silenced by society.

For more on Volcano theatre and “A Clockwork Orange” tour dates click here.

For a Nadsat dictionary click here.

To find out what Rachel thought of the performance click here.

For more of my reviews and articles about performances in South Wales please click here.