HOW difficult is it to invent a modern myth?
As we saw last week, Mary Shelley did it with Frankenstein’s Creature, but if we fast forward to the 20th century, there were so many real monsters around that it took a special imagination to invent a new one.
However Anthony Burgess did it, though, with his character Alex, King of the Droogs in his 1962 novel “A Clockwork Orange”.
You know the book, you know the film, but most readers won’t know the stage play, adapted by Burgess himself to counter director Stanley Kubrick’s celebration of violence in his 1971 cult film.
I caught up with Martin McCreadie, the English actor who plays Alex, at his Southbank hotel in Melbourne, where the stage show premiered.
McCreadie plainly shares Burgess’ distaste for the violent ending the Americans adopted.
“Burgess is more moralistic,” he says. Then, speaking as Alex, adds: “Looking back on my life, I was a young man then, like many adolescents, hormonal.”
The Americans, he continues, “didn’t like this ending so they took it away… there is no epiphany, no retrospection.”
When Burgess first brought the book to an American publisher, he was told that American audiences would never accept the final chapter in which Alex resolves to turn his life around and Kubrick felt the same way. McCreadie suspects that violence is intrinsic in the American way of life.
Not that there’s no violence in the play, especially when Alex and his “Droogs” go looking for some fun to alleviate their boredom, just like kids in the 2011 London riots.
“The rape scene has audiences squirming in their seats… ASJ [director Alexandra Spencer-Jones] likes to use physical movement to segue scenes together… she’s not a big fan of lights-down scene changes.”
“The music and the movement represent life in Alex’s head, which is the only perspective you get,” he says.
McCreadie rejoices in the kitsch 1980s numbers ASJ has chosen – everything from The Eurythmics’ “Beethoven (I Love to Listen To)” to David Bowie. “It’s not what you would expect to accompany a brutal rape,” says McCreadie.
As for “Nadsat”, the “silly language” that some critics have criticised as incomprehensible, it’s a mix of Slavic words and rhyming slang and words invented by Burgess himself. “Droog” means friend and “khorosho” means “horror show”.
McCreadie says: “When you listen to 15 and 16-year-old lads out on the street, at first you can’t decipher what they’re talking about, but you gradually find yourself understanding.”
He and ASJ rejected the “paint-by-numbers” process where you gesticulate to explain every word, deciding that it would be too condescending.
A bachelor’s and master’s drama graduate from the University of Northampton, he got his start in amateur theatre, “the most effective way of getting stuck into a text,” then moved to London and went professional.
McCreadie will be celebrating his 26th birthday the day after the show finishes in Canberra. Still “a boy at heart”, he plays Alex at age 15, 19 and 20.
“Part of the charm of the play,” he says, “is that you identify with Alex, you become a Droog and that makes it scary.”
“A Clockwork Orange”, The Playhouse, May 22-25, bookings to canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700.