Sit Down, You Awful People!

In the wake of mass walkout of the RSC's production of Marat/Sade, LEO PARKER-REES tells the audience where to get off. Expect offensive language and adult themes.

The RSC is trying, bless them. As a 50th birthday present to themselves, they decided to stage Marat/Sade (or, if you prefer: The Persecution and Assassination of Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade), complete with gang rape and tazer torture.

Audiences were warned of sexually explicit scenes involving religious imagery, and under-16s were advised to steer clear. The show’s director, RSC Literary Associate Anthony Neilson, apparently “never set out to offend anybody,” but audiences seem to have been stubbornly taking offence regardless, with an average of 30 walk-outs a night and 80 leaving at the interval of a single preview.

The waterboarding scene of the RSC’s Marat/Sade

But how should we react to this news? Should we tut at the RSC for their choice of show, or slam the prudish audience – who were warned, after all –  for their rudeness in leaving? Actually, both, but the RSC deserve less of the blame.

A struggling economy makes drumming up publicity all the more important, and what better way to do so than through controversy? Their wide-eyed innocence and mock shock at the walkouts is unconvincing but understandable; they’re playing a part, and doing it quite effectively.

But the real criticism should be aimed at the audience. I’ve sat through enough awful theatre to feel justified in saying a big ‘fuck you’ to every person to have left mid-performance. Actors notice when seats become empty – certainly when 80 do – and it has the potential to throw a performance, creating a horrible butterfly effect and ultimately spoiling the show for all the people who can’t afford to buy tickets to plays they won’t watch. You aren’t at the cinema, you hateful pricks, show some respect for the people struggling to entertain you.


The trailer for Marat/Sade

There are very few occasions when a walkout is justified. If a show has been misadvertised, and an audience hoping for family fun found nudity and gore, then leaving is fine. When those people were given flyers for ‘BLOODBATH OF FUCK’ and still got offended when they saw it, they can take offence quietly from the comfort of their seats, and remember to read in the future. They should even put up with a deeply unethical performance, if such a thing can be said to exist. Warn people away afterwards, sure. Maybe leave a scathing review in The Tab‘s comment section. Just don’t think yourself so important that protecting your senses from immorality justifies the risk of spoiling the play for everyone else. You think this Othello’s a bit racist? Say so afterwards. If you leave, you miss any opportunity for the show to redeem itself, and your criticism loses all credibility.

If an actor sees this, it’s going to affect their performance

Since being at Cambridge I’ve been involved in two productions of Rochester’s Sodom, and in Edinburgh this summer we were a little disappointed if all of the audience stayed to the end. Everyone to walk out was still, in my mind, a twat, but they were twats that I was glad of, and the money from their tickets was pleasantly similar to the money from the people who stayed. There’s something very satisfying about that, as though we were taxing their rudeness by giving them less play for their pound. We were trying to offend, as the RSC is doing now, and those who left were essentially confirming our success, but at the same time confirming their own lack of common courtesy.

So if you go to see a play, stay until the end, however offensive you find it. If you leave, people will see you leaving, people will discuss it afterwards, and everyone will agree that you’re a jerk. Don’t be a jerk.

READ: James Quince’s review of Marat/Sade HERE.

  • indignant chemist

    i wasn't aware the Royal Society of Chemistry put on shitty plays

    • yawn


  • Mr I. N. Dignsnr

    Got as far as the trailer and gave the rest of the article a miss. What was he going on about?

  • Awful person

    Unfortunately I walked out halfway through this article and so don't know how it ended.

  • Anon

    To be fair on the people who walked out, whilst in retropect the description of the play on the RSC's website as 'unruly, shocking and outspoken' is a warning sign, in my opinion it doesn't even come close to the truth of how hideous a lot of the stuff in this play is. In the world of hyperbolic advertising slogans that we live in, I wouldn't be surprised if 'unruly, shocking and outspoken' was used to describe a production of 'The Crucible' or such like!!!

  • Anon

    People don't tend to leave because they are horrified (and if they do, and are genuinely upset why make them torture themselves?)people leave if plays are bad, and if plays are really bad AND you have paid money for them, why pay to piss yourself off. I take your point about feeling more justified in giving a proper criticism of something (as shit) if you get to the end of it, probably why I read the whole of your article.

    • Leo Parker-Rees

      My problem is with the lack of respect it shows to cast and crew, who put in a lot of work, regardless of how successful the result may be. It isn't torture to sit through bad theatre; it's unfortunate, but in my opinion once you've bought your ticket and sat down, you should stick it out. Thanks for reading though!

  • Terrance

    To see what the fuss was about, I went to see this play with some friends. We did not walk out and I found the second half pleasant.

  • Craddock

    I've never left the theatre before, but I've walked out of a movie that made me feel so uncomfortable, I wanted to either shout out or cry.

    I can, therefore, sympathise with people who didn't want to endure the 'Marat/Sade' experience. F*ck being polite: if a show isn't entertaining me in anyway – indeed, if it's actually making me feel rather sick – then I will leave and spend my evening more productively; I am not wasting my time on a drastically misjudged production, having already wasted my money.

    I'm sorry if the idea of people being discerning offends you, but it's how the entertainment industry works. Grow up.

    • Leo Parker-Rees

      The theatre is not the cinema. Being rude is not being discerning. You aren't grown up for insulting the people trying to entertain you. But it's nice to know someone whose time is so very valuable spent some of it reading my article! Thanks, friend!

  • Awful Person

    I struggle to understand how the play can be "trying to offend" and still criticise its audience for a "lack of common courtesy". Let's try and be a *little* bit consistent at least: either set out to offend and be prepared to take offense, or treat your audience with courtesy and expect courtesy back.

    Don't assume you can brazenly offend your audience and expect them to meekly stay put in their seats for fear of offending: it's stupid.

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