Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

'A Clockwork Orange' Stage Adaptation Presented In Middlebury

Andrew Smith, Middlebury College
The teenage gang known as The Droogs wreaks havoc in the dystopian future of 'A Clockwork Orange'.

People know 'A Clockwork Orange', the novella about a violent dystopian future, written by Anthony Burgess in 1962. And they know the infamous film directed by Stanly Kubrick in 1971. But less familiar is the stage adaptation written by Burgess, in part a reaction to the film, which he disliked.

Now Middlebury College is presenting that adaptation, re-introducing the teenage anti-hero Alex and his gang known as The Droogs.

A Clockwork Orange is being directed by Andrew Smith, a 1997 Middlebury graduate and current theater department faculty member.

Smith says it’s okay if you can’t quite understand what the Droogs are saying.  He notes that Anthony Burgess was also a linguist who invented his own language for the Droogs, called Nadsat. Smith says it’s a unique amalgam of Russian and English, which he describes as  the two most politically charged languages of the cold war world.

Smith says, "It now creates a very strong sense of poetry, as well as a very visceral sense of language. When it does flip into the Russian, you don’t need to know Russian. You don’t need to know any of this. I think a lot of it is absorbing it like poetry."

A Clockwork Orange follows the violent exploits of Alex and the Droogs, who rape and murder young and old alike.

Alex eventually gets sentenced to prison for murder. He asks the prison chaplain about a behavior modification technique which could get him an early release from his detention. But the chaplain warns Alex that the aversion therapy will strip him of his own free will.

Director Andrew Smith says the notions of choice and free will are the central themes of A Clockwork Orange. He believes those themes were lost amidst the graphic sexual violence people remember from the film version.

"The movie has distracted very much from that central image", Smith says. "And Anthony Burgess himself did not like the movie, he detested it. And that’s why he wrote this stage version in response, is to reclaim, I think, a little bit of this social clutter that comes up when you hear the words Clockwork Orange."

Still, A Clockwork Orange is a dark, violent play. Smith says the cast spent a lot of time talking about sexual violence as it exists in the world, and on the Middlebury campus, and how they might respond to criticism from other students.

"It’s important to me that this is a theatrical experience from which the students can learn," Smith says. "So it became a much grander effort to open up our own eyes and awareness to the sensitivities of this subject so that we, as we rehearse these scenes of sexual violence, that we as a cast can create an atmosphere that’s warm, and appropriate and respectful over this entire issue. "

Smith says the play poses the question, 'what do you want from your society'?

"This play is about a man who does these terrible things, and then in response to these terrible things, the government comes and does more terrible things to this man as a means of curing him, and ultimately I think the question is left to us as the audience, what do you want?"

After his release from prison, Alex is savagely beaten by police, who are in fact former gang members.

He’s discovered by a writer, who does not recognize that Alex was the leader of the gang that assaulted him, and fatally beat his wife.

Director Andrew Smith says this dystopian vision of government running amok remains a relevant theme in today’s society.

"Look  at the NSA. Edward Snowden. First he was very vilified, now there’s a counter argument growing in the nation of maybe we should be bringing him back to the states. So these are very current and the students have had no trouble whatsoever just really tapping into the headlines of the New York Times as we head into rehearsal. "

Ultimately, Smith says that when all is said and done, his main goal is to have the audience asking questions.

"I do not want to pre-determine what those answers will be to those questions, but I firmly believe that our role as theater practitioners is to raise discussion. I want questions about our society, I want questions about gender relationships, I want questions about choice, I want questions about style, about art. "

A Clockwork Orange will be presented at Middlebury College’s Wright Memorial Theater Thursday through Sunday, with a post-show discussion following Friday night’s performance.

Neal was a reporter and VPR's All Things Considered host from 2001 to 2014. He joined VPR in 1996, hosting VPR's jazz programming, including live performances from the VPR studios and the Discover Jazz Festival. Prior to VPR, Neal was a programmer and host for WNCS in Montpelier and WDEV in Waterbury. He holds a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College.
Latest Stories