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Clockwork? This is a Play About Connection

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The recent Senior Schools' joint production of Clockwork was an unmitigated success. Here it is reviewed by Josef Minta, the Art Specialist at Park Road, Bolton School's Junior Boys' School.

'You know you are in for a great night when you step in to a space with quotations from Plato, Kubrick and Beckett plastered onto the walls, colourful banners with the faces of philosophers, activists and thinkers hung on every surface and the wail of Mark E Smith singing “t-t-t-t-t-t-totally wired!” filling the air. It’s going to be a real horror show, brother. Double-plus good.  

Clockwork is a bold, provocative and thought provoking piece of theatre that wouldn’t find itself out of place at the Contact Theatre or the Royal Exchange; it dares to treat the audience as if they are ready to actively engage with philosophical ideas, dystopian fictions and the obsessions of their here and now. After all, as the screens proclaimed, “forever is composed of nows”.

The play combines ideas, themes and fragments from a wide range of sources including A Clockwork Orange, 1984, the work of Kae Tempest and more, into a series of Brechtian ‘units’. There is potential for this to feel messy and disjointed but in the masterful hands of the writer, cast and production team, this collection of ideas is pulled into a cohesive whole that references and responds to remix culture, the transitory nature of social media and post-lockdown attention spans.

Themes of violence, control and individual choice are deftly woven into a narrative that, although pegged in historical fiction, also relates to contemporary concerns and the big questions: What sort of society do we live in? What is my part in it? An ensemble brimming with confidence, skill and talent carried this wonderful script forward.

Finley Littlefair as Alex runs the whole gamut of emotions as his swaggering confidence is pierced by self-doubt and eventually abject horror as he is forcibly conditioned to reject violence. He is ably supported by a cast of ‘droogs’ played by Tom Griffiths, Billy Burrows, Eve Blackmore and Jack Howarth who manage to bring depth and individual quality to this gang of complex and fundamentally unlikeable characters.

Particularly poignant was the representation of a teacher facing a crisis of confidence in front of a class. Stood under a spotlight, baring his soul, Jayden Luhar embodied the world-weary teacher questioning what it means to be an educator and how we educate.

Another stand out performance came from Alex McKie who brought us the role of a nameless government minister, delivered with the right balance of outward paternalism and an ill-concealed ideological fervour.

Brodsky, played by Chris Stapleton, was the quintessential arch villain, a disturbing presence who strolled the gantries behind the audience as the first act came to a close, and leant a maniacal energy to proceedings as we leapt straight into the Ludovico treatment at the top of Act 2.

Individual performances aside, the strength lay in the honest and often understated performances of the whole cast; every element fitted together like a well-oiled machine and ran like, well, clockwork. Powerful stuff.

This was an exceptional play that really deserves a wider audience. The perfect foil to panto season.' ​ 


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