Photo from Marat/Sade

Reviewer: Lauren Montgomery.

There is no other play quite like Marat/Sade as it illustrates a very important time in Post-Revolution France. The play focuses on the life of the Marquis de Sade (a writer known for his debauched writings) who is incarcerated at the Charenton Asylum. It is predominately concerned with the interplay between de Sade and Jean Paul Marat, and the involvement of the other inmates in de Sade's plays.

Essentially, Marat/Sade is a "Play within a Play" employing the techniques of audience involvement to give the viewer the feeling of being in the Asylum itself. Through tight and believable characters you are drawn into a world of sin and depravity. The world of the Marquis de Sade.

The lights come up, the spotlight falls upon the Herald who announces the play and introduces its characters. We learn that the play is to be conducted in a series of episodes as narrated by the Herald himself. He takes up post at a lectern, and the play unfolds...The first characters we see are the musicians, who awkwardly make their entrance and take their positions to the right of the stage.

Coulmier, the director of the Asylum and avid supporter of the Post-Revolution Government led by Napoleon, watches the play in the company of his wife, from the confines of a wheelchair. de Sade is announced and can be seen seated quietly overseeing the play.

On the stage we see Marat, cared for by Simonne, confined to a bathtub due to his skin condition. One notices that Marat is played by a woman (Renee Gentle), though this is not due to gender confusion, but to emphasis liberty (a central theme of the play) as a feminine quality. Simonne (Elliot Howard) may have suffered from gender confusion, and is depicted as a man in a dress. This does not interfere with the workings of the play, for these are actors playing characters, and not genders. Acts of Homo-Eroticism are evoked by the words of de Sade, which provides delightful meandering over what was considered "socially-inappropriate" behaviour.

Throughout the play, the discussions between de Sade and Marat, see de Sade successfully ripping apart everything Marat believes in leaving him (Marat) with doubt in place of what he (Marat) believed to be sound reasoning. De Sade advocates his disillusionment with the Revolution and his resolve to live within his imagination knowing that his reality was seemingly unfit for the "outside world" but simply did not care.

The Nuns who worked at the Asylum restore order during the course of play, much to the dismay of de Sade. When Charlotte Corday is introduced (assassin of Marat, and a narcoleptic), the nuns ensure she is awake for her appointments. She attempts to visit Marat three times during the play, and is successful upon the third attempt.

Le Guillotine (or Madame Guillotine, as it is sometimes known) is featured in this play. The inmates perform a ritualistic procession with lettuce (used to represent heads) upon sticks to the guillotine for beheading. This powerfully illustrates the delicacy of Life and Death and existential philosophy surrounding life in an asylum. Beheading was a central part of life (and Capital Punishment) in the 18th Century France.

Music is used powerfully and effectively to dramatically emphasis the warring between the two groups (Marat vs. de Sade) and the musicians (who are also inmates) remain withdrawn when not providing the music which acts as a commentary to the action.

Props are used effectively - bathtubs are placed strategically on the stage, there is a famous painting of the "Death of Marat" by Jacques Louis-David, and this appears to be a reference to that. A lot of blood was used in this production, particularly during the assassination scene, and later on when more blood is poured upon Marat who is positioned like the Statue of Liberty. Masks are paraded around the stage haunting Marat (possibly a part of his condition). Marat is taunted and jeered at by his followers who are demanding a revolution.

At the climax, the play paused for an 'interruption', the players are now contestants on a Game Show and the Herald is now dressed as Game Show Host. The Nuns are now donning skimpy outfits and Simonne is throwing money at the contestants when they get the answers correct. We learn of the events which unfold after the assassination of Marat.

It never claims to be a "funny" piece (although some parts are very humorous). Its very nature is a serious one. The play poses some very serious questions about the inequality between the lower and the richer classes.

Several times during this play I had to remind myself that these were actors and not inmates. I did not see these actors as actors; I saw them as the characters they were playing. The performance itself had you by the claws, it is very full-on, it continually poses questions concerning the political philosophies of the time and makes you think. The basic idea behind it being that you should watch the proceedings and judge for yourself. The message of the play is: Question everything and never believe something solely because you've heard it over and over again. What is insanity really but an inability to conform to societal rules and ideals...?