As cinemas become flooded with adaptations (This year is to see Anna Karenina, The Hobbit, Stephen King’s Carrie and The Great Gatsby, among others at the movies), the Seymour Centre is to stage Anthony Burgess’ most notorious work, A Clockwork Orange (1962), the hedonistic tale of behaviourism and violence as the answer to adolescent tedium. Not the author’s greatest work, it is certainly the most well-known of Burgess’ works, exploring the hauntingly potent issue of humanity and behaviour. Having celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, the novella is still considered a great work of philosophical enquiry, most notably exploring the notion of free will. Alex, the protagonist/antagonist is a violence-loving and seeking leader of his pack of ‘droogs’, living in a dystopian, futuristic London. After being arrested for a string of sexually violent crimes, Alex agrees to undergo an experimental treatment, the Ludovico Technique, which renders him both helpless to his societal captors and unable to listen to his beloved classical music. This prompts a metaphysical dialogue about governmental power and brutality. It is an odd yet compelling novel in which Burgess shows the seamless ability to move from hatred to sympathy for Alex’s deranged though intelligent nature.
Burgess writes that the title came from a saying he overheard when he was younger, claiming it to be an East London slang phrase. Later, Burgess wrote that the title was a metaphor for ‘an organic entity, full of juice and sweetness and agreeable odour, being turned into a mechanism.’ Another insight into the meaning of the title is found when Alex and his droogs brutalise a couple in a cottage, where the man, later revealed to be an anti-government protestor named Alexander, is writing a manuscript called A Clockwork Orange, which is ripped up by Alex. Burgess expressed disdain for this novella, claiming it to be his weakest work, the inspiration for which was his wife’s rape and beating, and his return to London where he witnessed the growth of London youth culture.
With three parts and each with seven chapters, the book’s 21st chapter was considered by Burgess’ publisher and Stanley Kubrick, the director of the film adaptation, to be less convincing an ending, in which Alex abandons his violent ways and begins contemplating settling down. The American edition of the work omitted this final chapter, letting the novella end on a darker, more believable note, before the original was re-released. Burgess seemed to want to convince the reader that Alex was capable of change, where the American edition was keen to preserve the more realistic notion that Alex succumbed to his violent ways.
The stage adaptation is to feature music from David Bowie, Placebo and Alex’s much-loved Beethoven. It is playing at the Seymour Centre, Chippendale, from April 23-28.