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A Clockwork Orange - It's A Girl Thing

The space age campus of Edinburgh’s Telford College is a hub of activity resembling 1970s sci-fi flick, Logan’s Run. This seems an appropriate setting for what’s going on in the drama studio at the top of the building. Especially as, prior to all out war breaking out, the opposing gangs of teenage girls running the room have just taken receipt of 200 oranges.

As head of Telford’s Drama course, Scott Johnston has cast his new production of A Clockwork Orange with a female set of Droogs. With girl gangs high on the agenda of society’s apparent ills, it’s an all too prescient reinvention of Anthony Burgess’s future-shocker made notorious by Stanley Kubrick’s film.

“It’s about the nature of power,” says Johnston, “and how that power can be taken away. Today you’ve got young offenders being tagged and the threat of ID cards. The way the film looks is specific to the cultural landscape of the time, but the ideas of Christian free will and governmental control are still the same.”

In terms of the play’s exploration of the relationship between creativity and violence, the show’s video director Kim Beveridge hits the nail on the head.

“If you’re young and have too much testosterone,” she points out, “you need some kind of outlet, and if you can’t create something, you end up destroying it. That’s about education, and providing somewhere for young people to channel that energy.”

There’s energy too in the show’s music. Johnston remembered Edinburgh 1970s post-punk band, The Scars. Their song, Horrorshow, was written in Nadsat, the exclusive patois the Droogs communicate in. Nadsat is a hybrid of Russian and English slang. ‘The two political languages of the world reduced to none-political jargon’ as a line of the play puts it. The word Horrorshow means something akin to a good night out.

“Robert King from The Scars not only let us use Horrorshow,” says Johnston, “but wrote a new piece as well. What’s interesting is that when The Scars did Horrorshow, they were the same age the cast are now, and the actors find this music really exciting. The one thing they have in common is that they found this outlet for creativity.”

Upstairs, Alex and her Droogs aren’t taking any prisoners. Clad in uniform black-and-white offset by red braces, the girls resemble the bovver girls, sorts and knuckle girls who strode through the 1970s pulp novels of Richard Allen, which exploited teenage cults in fervent tabloid-ese. Where Allen’s heroines were little more than pliant molls egging their Doc Marten clad boyfriends on, latter-day Girl Power has moved things along somewhat.

Last month saw the publication of first time novelist Belinda Webb’s book, A Clockwork Apple. This too reinvents Alex as a girl, who leads her Grrlz through the streets of Manchester’s Moss Side, speaking in a rough-hewn argot derived from black street-slang.

For Gulli Skatun, who plays Alex, and fellow final year HND students Gail Newton, Sophie McCabe and Ericka Rowan who play her Droogs, it’s a world they recognise.

“Females today are totally turning into men,” Newton observes. “They go out on the street and knock lumps out of each other just like men do.”

“Equality is different now,” Skatun says of binge-drinking, “but women can’t drink like men because our bodies aren’t made that way.”

Where McCabe’s from, “There are gang fights all the time, and if you try and stop it you end up just getting in the thick of it.”

“My family were horrified when they heard we were doing the play,” says Skatun. “She thought it glorified violence.”

Despite such fears, Rowan points out that “We’re lucky, because rather than join gangs, which we’d be too scared to do anyway, we joined drama clubs.”

A Clockwork Orange arrives onstage at a crucial time in the development of drama training in Scotland’s colleges. Both Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University College and RSAMD in Glasgow are in a mess. QMUC look set to ditch conservatoire acting training in favour of a more academic approach. Telford may be outwith this immediate bureaucratic loop, but Beveridge’s observations speak volumes.

“What’s going on at QM is appalling,” says Johnston, himself a former student of Queen Margaret, “and can’t be allowed to happen. Courses like this change people’s lives. Whether they’re helping prevent anti-social behaviour I don’t know, but they allow young people to challenge themselves as much as anything else, where their voice and their creativity is recognised s something that matters.”

This is the rub. As a bridge to professional drama training, Telford is a vital component of the existing infrastructure. A Clockwork Orange travels to Romania in June. If there’s nowhere left to go after that, despite the meaning of the word in Nadsat, it could make for a horror show of a different kind.

A Clockwork Orange plays at St Stephen’s Church, Edinburgh, Thursday-Saturday, before touring to Romania in June.

The Herald, May 15th 2008

ends

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