The play that changed British Theatre forever
Photo credit: http://www.khyamallami.com/site/?p=1084
Above, is the new branding for the RSC's current production of Marat/Sade. Whilst I personally prefer the old branding, I completely understand why the RSC ditched that to run with this. The production is a brand new and a fresh take on the play, presumably very different from other versions, and so they have adopted the new branding to reflect the fact that this is new. You can see the old branding, if you are interested, here:
I knew nothing about Marat/Sade prior to seeing it yesterday, other than what was on the RSC's flyer, which was enough to intrigue me and to make me buy a ticket. I did not see the original RSC production in 1964 (it was on before I was born!), I have not seen the film, I have not seen the National's 1997 production, and I have not seen any of the many and varied amateur productions that there have been of the play since. In fact, I had never even heard of the play before, which just shows how ignorant I am re some aspects of theatre. The RSC flyer says:
In post revolutionary France the inmates of an asylum present a play about the murder of Jean-Paul Marat under the direction of the notorious Marquis de Sade. As the director of the asylum and his family sit down expecting to see a patriotic display, they are confronted with a performance that is unruly, shocking and outspoken, as the inmates take it upon themselves to reveal the true cost of the revolution.
The play deals with history, politics, philosophy, the French Revolution, mental health and asylums. I have an interest in mental health, mental health issues and asylums generally (you know that from my dissertation topic). I loved Bedlam at the Globe last year. So I booked to see this, purely because it was about asylums and their inmates, which is as good a reason as any!
I loved this production and what I felt in my heart was that FINALLY the RSC have put a production onto their main stage in their brand new auditorium, in their 50th birthday season, which is worthy of their main stage.
What was so good about it?
In brief - innovation, diversity, the portrayal of an asylum and its inmates, a disabled actor and an Arab actor centre stage, an actor in drag, obscenity and bad language, interaction and audience participation, the music, energy and pace.
- It was innovative and new, and it was not "safe", playing to the RSC's traditional audience and regular theatregoers and the numerous international tourists the RSC attracts. It was "different" - I really believe all theatre, including the big powerhouses, should take risks and try innovation, otherwise they will die. The National always takes risks on new work that is controversial and ground-breaking, a good example being all four new plays on at the Paintframe over the Summer. I am glad that the RSC is now doing the same and trying something different. The RSC should always be doing more than just Shakespeare.
- The RSC put the lunacy, the madness, and the extreme chaos, of an asylum, with all its richness and hellishness, onto its main stage. For that I am very grateful and thankful. I want mainstream audiences to see and experience what these places are like and what it means to be an asylum inmate. The actors all did this as part of the production process in the rehearsal rooms. The RSC then put that lived experience onto their main stage. Thank you RSC!
- The actors were all excellent and did portray both the humour and the horror of mental illness. I totally believed that they were asylum inmates. I should know. I have been in enough asylums and met enough people suffering from mental illness to know what a realistic and accurate portrayal is. It was quite clear to me that each and every actor had taken a psychiatric diagnosis/condition, read up about it and researched it, and was then putting that diagnosis/condition up on the stage.
- They had a disabled actress, Lisa Hammond, centre stage, complete with her wheelchair, playing the Herald. This is her debut season at the RSC and she was exceptional. It just goes to show, roles should always go to the best actor for the part. You might say that I am being a bit backward making a big song and dance about seeing a disabled actor on stage. I am saying it is still a rare enough sight to justify talking about it. It is especially rare outside of fringe and amateur theatre. To play a leading role in a big powerhouse like the RSC is fantastic. They are also not afraid of laughing at, and poking fun at, disability - they did this most effectively - go and see the production to see how (there are two key scenes).
- They had an Arab/Asian actor, Arsher Ali, in one of the two leading roles, that of Jean-Paul Marat. Just see above and replace what I have written re disabled actors with Arab/Asian actors! He too was brilliant.
- I really must give a special mention to Jasper Britton, playing the Marquis de Sade. He was mind-blowing. I particularly loved him dressed in drag. He had completely captured all the feminine wiles that women employ. I learnt quite a few things from him! Plus it takes real guts to come out onto the RSC's main stage in drag, and give the performance that he gave, when you really have no clue as to the reaction - I loved it!
- It was interactive. The audience were a part of the production. As with Richard III at the Old Vic, very effective use was made of the actors being amongst the audience for one key scene, and also there was great use of a TV screen showing Marat speaking (I won't say that both ideas were stolen from the Old Vic, but they were both replicas of what the Old Vic did!).
- A few of my friends will hate this but yes they had obscenity and bad language on the RSC's main stage. I like this and want to see more! It is also true to the piece - obscenity and bad language are part and parcel of an asylum. I was particularly taken with the image of priests urinating, defecating and farting on their peasants.
- The music the music the music! The music was specially commissioned for this production. It had a real authentic Arab flavour to it and it totally made the piece - I loved it! This is massively important, as music and song are an integral part of this piece, almost an extra character. Huge shout out to the composer Khyam Allami.
- I just loved the energy and the pace of the piece. Especially the musical numbers. This was not "boring" theatre. This was theatre that was alive and buzzing. I loved that and I want to see more of it!
You can gauge how much I loved this by the amount I have written about it. I know this production will be slated in many quarters and that many people will hate it. I LOVED IT!
The RSC has stepped it up - go there and experience it in all of its glory NOW!
Marat/Sade runs from 14 October to 5 November at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.