Review: Marat/Sade, at Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Outrageous Play Outrageously Outrages Outraged Audience In Stratford! Or words to that effect.
Marat/Sade has been getting the tabloid press all hot and bothered. Perceived excesses in the play have been followed by an excessive gushing of newspaper ink.
Apparently swaths of people have jumped ship during the intermission, then strode manfully to their nearest stationery shop, to purchase the necessary tools to write scathing letters to their local MPs.
Now for a rather deflating news update: Marat/Sade is not as naughty as all that. Oh, if only it was.
You see, Peter Weiss’s drama is devised to shock. It’s meant to anger. If the audience is having a jolly good time, then it really isn’t doing its job.
Not everyone was entertained by proceedings on the afternoon I saw the play. A few people were certainly mildly miffed, or a titchy bit tetchy.
But, on the whole, I’d say the reaction was polite, middle class bafflement. Though, speaking for myself, I found the performance rather charming, in an innocent, naive, undergraduate sort of way.
Marat/Sade was first performed in the sixties, and it shows. Like a hippy on a bad hair day, it lets everything hang out. Bums are flashed. (Ooh, er, missus!) Todgers, too. (I say!)
There’s also some Rocky Horror fun, with chaps in drag, and the brandishing of a sex aid or three.
What the tabloids are claiming is the most controversial scene involves a naked, elderly man being gang raped. Which is awful, of course.
Though it’s only a play, remember. Not real life. Perhaps it is too explicit, though I’ve seen worse in the movies of Lars von Trier.
And what about the plot? Well, it’s a rather clever set-up.
Based on true events and characters, Marat/Sade is set in an asylum where the Marquis de Sade is incarcerated.
Coulmier, the doctor in charge of the institution, has permitted the father of sadism to write and stage a play, featuring de Sade’s fellow inmates.
The play he has devised is about the death of the brutal French revolutionary, Jean-Paul Marat.
This play within a play works well, allowing ideas about freedom, power, cruelty, idealism and madness to ricochet off each other.
In essence, it’s an attack on the ideals of the enlightenment.
However, Marat/Sade isn’t just a critique of the Age of Reason. It’s a deliberate, delinquent belch in the face of complacent, middle class, middle aged theatre audiences.
A desperate attempt to prove that theatre can be vital and vitriolic.
Unfortunately, while it may leave the grey suburbanites largely unmoved, I doubt it will tear many young, working class scamps away from their Wiis, either.
Until November 5.
Rating * * *