Back To All News

Gender-bending brutality: women cast in dominant male roles in new version of A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange promotional poster

Key male characters in a contemporary interpretation of the classic novel A Clockwork Orange – infamous for scenes of sadistic assault and rape – are to be played by females. 

The play, which opens this week at the Exeter Northcott Theatre, is a modern retelling of the Anthony Burgess’ original script which aims to address the issue of “power itself”.

It includes the creation of “new scenes and entire physical sequences to add depth to Burgess’s already electric story.”

In the 1962 book, the protagonist Alex conducts a horrific crime spree with his ‘droogs’, which includes mass violence and rape, before Alex undergoes a controversial psychological conditioning technique to correct his ways.

A 1971 screen adaptation by Stanley Kubrick became notorious when death threats and controversy over copycat violence prompted the director to withdraw the film from cinemas.

Burgess, who wrote the novel and the script, examines issues still relevant to today’s youth, including juvenile delinquency and control by adults.

These will be explored in the University of Exeter Theatre Company’s production.  The 2018 play will also examine the nature of power with women student actors playing key male roles, including some of Alex’s followers, and the doctor who performs the correctional treatment.

Director Florrie Taylor and Assistant Director Alex Benjamin say they made the changes to assess power as a whole, rather than “the very specifically gendered kind of power that’s presented in Burgess’ text”.

Alex Benjamin, Assistant Director, said: “Anthony Burgess’ attitude towards women is fairly
1960s. Women don’t have a lot to do in the story. So we’ve swapped the gender of several characters to create some great female parts, and adapted the sexual assaults to make it horrible in a slightly more equal-opportunities way.”

“The policy is that we play them as women rather than asking the actors to play men. Women being victimised is an important part of the story, and it’d be foolish to shy away from this fact. But, by allowing them to play the victimisers too, it becomes more of a two-way street that allows us to examine power itself’” says Benjamin.

Florrie Taylor, a master’s student studying MA Theatre Practice at Exeter University, said she wanted to create “a never before seen version”.

She added:  “We have been able create new scenes and entire physical sequences, to add depth to Burgess’s already electric story. We’ve been able to add more complexity to Alex’s journey than is offered by the script alone”

Among the female actors in traditionally male roles are May Macleod as Georgie, Laura Jackson as Dr Brodsky and Lily Roberts as Governor.

Macleod, playing the principal role of Georgie, said: “In a play that can celebrate male aggression, I’ve grasped that Georgie can  be equally menacing whilst embracing her transcribed gender.”

Student actors Anna Blackburn and Antonia Whillians, push the boundaries of Burgess’ initial text as members of the gang, engaging in vicious acts alongside men.

“It has been challenging to explore a such an intense and different physicality and characterisation…encompassing the agility, playfulness and violence which are important aspects of the droog characters”, says Whillians.

The delinquents in the performance speak in a fractured slang called Nadsat, composed of Slavic languages, English, and Cockney rhyming slang.

The performance includes songs from the original Burgess score, but musical directors Oliver Edward and Billy Brooks have updated the soundtrack, using contemporary tracks which are more relevant to a 2018 audience.

Hannah Simmonds, Movement Director, who choreographed many of the controversial scenes, said: “It’s an imitation dance. It’s static, violent movements that come across as aggressive, but in a rhythmic way. It pairs really well with the music, and the moves were made to the music, which is new for the show itself”

“We’re very excited to have such an exciting piece of theatre coming to Northcott, that approaches a classic text from a new angle” adds Jacob Blackburn, on the Exeter Northcott’s Board of Trustees.

A Clockwork Orange: A Play with Music at the Exeter Northcott Theatre, opens on Wednesday, January 17th and runs through to Saturday 20th.

Tickets cost £15 and are available from the Northcott Theatre’s website, or the Northcott Theatre’s box office.


a seat

Adopt your very own seat at the Exeter Northcott and help secure a bright future for the theatre.

Find out more