Playwright Ed Durante & musical director Fred Carl discuss adaptation

Having recently watched the film version of A Clockwork Orange, I was excited to see how the timeless classic was adopted by the Royal Theatre Stratford East [read my review here] as well as to have a chat with the men behind the piece. Considering the book held such weight and was so popular, I wondered if Ed Durante – who was behind the words – and Fred Carl – who was behind the music – felt any pressure in terms of re-imagining the story. They didn’t…

“It was more excitement to have a new vision… It’s exciting more than scary… There probably might be some people that are so in love with the film that its gonna be difficult for them to see anything else,” they went on to explain, “but hopefully they’ll come and see like, ‘oh there are a number of ways to interpret this story’.”

Translating the mediums was of course difficult, the duo revealed, but no more difficult than anytime you translate anything onto the stage – “adaptation is a tricky beast” they stressed. “Obviously we had to make choices about what events in the novel we would pick to dramatize, what characters we’d put in… a novel has a certain kind of scope that you don’t generally have on stage… we can’t tell as sprawling of a story as time is compressed.”

The pair however did make sure to remain true to the novel, despite inserting their own take on it. The most important adaptation, being that Alex changes throughout the course of the story, rather than returning to his life of crime as he does in the first edition of the novel, as orinally penned in 1962 by Anthony Burgess, and in Stanley Kubrick’s famous 1971 film.

This was in fact one of the main reasons why they agreed to do the piece, “it offered the chance to do a character who really had this kinda massive change over the course of the story… speaking to a broader community about a persons free will and their responsibility for their actions.”

When questioned on why they believed the final chapter to have been omitted from the first editions of the novel and from the movie, they responded that based on what they’ve read, “the editors thought American audiences in 1960 would not believe the chapter where Alex decides to change his ways.”

This was re-assessed in the most recent editions of the novel however, where Burgess added an essay at the front explaining why this edition was different than the first. “He said that if a character doesn’t change, if there’s no change then what’s the point? In any narrative, no matter what it is… star wars or… it’s always about the hero’s journey… watching a person go through experiences, obstacles and opportunities and watching how they react to those, what they do to change it… overcome or fall down. For us its not interesting if nothing changes.”

Another change they were keen to incorporate was the use of a black cast and a different kind of music. “I never really see black actors in theatre,” Fred went on to explain, “If I do I see one person with a short bit… unfortunately they’re not portrayed in a real, complicated way as everybody is.”

This was also the case with the kind of music they chose, the R&B, groove-based type of sounds they listen to but never really get to hear on stage. This is a lesson Fred incorporates in his teachings as an associate arts professor at NYU as well, where he helps students tell the stories they want to tell. “I’m constantly encouraging students like what kind of music do you like…? Well then, why aren’t I ever hearing that in your pieces?”

Taking a different approach to Alex’s relationship with music, the production is a musical theatre piece incorporating music into every aspect of it, as opposed to just through Alex’s love for it. “Everybody has a relationship to music,” Fred concludes. This plays a role in the portrayal of Alex as a person, a sympathetic mind evidently bringing his character to life.

“I never was a criminal, I’ve never done the specific things he’s done, but I’ve made bad choices,” Ed explains. “At certain points it was honestly very depressing to live inside that character, but I always knew there was hope. Despite whatever mistakes the character made, if you at least acknowledge what you’ve done we can go forward… Nobody is all one thing.”

This emphasis on change is evidently supremely important to the duo, the overall message they are trying to get across very similar to what Burgess believes, namely that “once a human doesn’t have the ability to make choices for good or evil then they are not human anymore, and they are a clockwork orange.”

Having been in London during the riots for rehearsals of the show, I predictably ask Fred and Ed their take on the chaos. “It was so bizarre… there was so much in the press ‘clockwork this, clockwork that’… Burgess has his finger on something that’s still happening all over the world.” A statement that undeniably holds acres of truth.

Keep your eyes wide open for Fred Carl’s new adaptation of Hattie Gossett’s piece, The immigrant suite: hey xenophobe! who you calling a foreigner?; and Ed Durante’s upcoming film Clay Feet, which explores the early friendship of Mohamed Ali and Malcom X.

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