Tag Archives: Damien Hasson

“A Clockwork Orange” at the Park Theatre

Anthony Burgess’ novel, a dystopian exploration of violent youth with plenty of philosophical speculation, gains a visceral immediacy under Alexandra Spencer-Jones’ stage direction for her company, Action To The Word. As much a dance piece as a work of theatre, the scenes of violence have an unnerving grace that has already earned the show plenty of four-star reviews – deservedly so.

The physicality of the performers is striking. This is a group with gymnastic skills that are awe-inspiring. Alex, the lead “droog”, addicted to “destroy, break, steal, slash” as he “groweth up” with his moloko (milk) drinking gang is a terrifying figure. His crimes mean that the production, never shy of shock tactics, is not for the faint hearted.

In the hugely demanding lead role Jonno Davies can be happy he earns praise for more than his deltoids – although it’s clear milk does a body good. Both his rage rage and the degree of sympathy he evokes when his character is subjected to a corrective therapy show the talents of a strong actor.

What of the strange vocabulary, with its Shakespearean feel and neologisms? Explained a little too late on stage as an “international teenage patois”, the glory of the original book, with Burgess’ insight as a linguist, is that readers comes to understand it so quickly. That comprehension doesn’t happen here and that’s a shame.

The same-full on physicality that serves Davies so well, and creates many powerful scenes for the ensemble, serves other roles less well. The establishment figures Alex encounters before, during and after imprisonment and his sinister treatment are left with little to do but shout. Both Damien Hasson and Simon Cotton embrace double roles with energy, but the characters are flat.

It’s a sexy show – that’s easy – but the sexuality is edgy, dangerous, a challenge for which Spencer-Jones earns respect. The all-male cast has Alex as an abusive bisexual, which complicates the misogyny commented on in the piece. The performers who take on female roles, and camp things up a good deal overall, add further provocation, but it feels old fashioned. And the humour makes the audience as childish as the characters – an uncomfortable point to play with.

A Clockwork Orange, with its probing questions about the role of choice in morality, should be disquieting. That these ideas aren’t explored with Burgess’ original articulacy might be a disappointment. Alex’s adoration of Beethoven feels curtailed by a hotchpotch of musical accompaniment; how “music is heaven” becomes hellish for him, feels pat. But Burgess’ work is important enough to make any appearance on the stage welcome, and the company’s imaginative approach has a lack of timidity that makes it go a long way.

Until 18 March 2017


Photo by Matt Martin

“The Unquiet Grave of Garcia Lorca” at the Drayton Arms Theatre

Former theatre critic Nicholas de Jongh’s second work, The Unquiet Grave of Garcia Lorca, is currently playing at the charming Drayton Arms pub theatre in South Kensington. As with De Jongh’s first piece, Plague over England, which gained a West End transfer, it explores an event in history through the fate of a gay icon – this time the Spanish Civil War and one of Spain’s most famous writers. You can’t doubt the play’s ambition, and the subject matter is interesting. Unfortunately, the work will disappoint many with its confusing structure, pretentious touches and poor performances.

The identity of Lorca’s last, secret lover was only revealed in 2012 and The Unquiet Grave of Garcia Lorca looks at the impact this romance had on the young man, Juan Ramirez de Lucas, both at the time and in his old age. De Jongh seems swayed by his journalistic past into using the topical peg of a recent discovery. Sadly, the decision to finally tell the story to the world isn’t as interesting as what actually happened.

Switching between the past and present shouldn’t be as confusing as this production makes it. Even worse, interaction between Lorca and Juan feels truncated, while a scene with Lorca in prison ends up more bizarre than weighty. Matters are further complicated by an examination of Britain’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War. This is interesting enough to be a play in its own right, but is reduced to a blatantly superfluous opening scene where a British couple discover Lorca’s body in the grounds of their holiday home.

Working out what to make of De Jongh’s play is tricky; the raw material is promising but Hamish MacDougall’s direction makes little effort to aid clarity. There are good performances from Damien Hasson and Matthew Bentley; a convincing Lorca and intense Juan who work well together. However, the other performers seem woefully lost. It’s unusual to see such a low standard of work on London’s fringe, and vaguely embarrassing. Lorca would be more than unquiet in his grave – he would be spinning in it.

Until 26 October 2014


Photo by Ed Clark

Written 5 October 2014 for The London Magazine