JAMES QUINCE goes all the way to Stratford to see just what all the fuss is about over MARAT/SADE.

controversy marat/sade rape religion Reviews rsc sadomasochism Sex Theatre violence walkouts

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 14th October – 5th November

Directed by Anthony Neilson

[rating: 4/5]

Something the RSC can take pride in is always exploring new ways to put death, beauty and metaphor back on stage and pushing the boundaries of performance and society; something they certainly manage with their latest run of Marat/Sade.

This play is set as a ‘play within a play’ in the Charenton lunatic asylum in France on July 13th, 1808. The story is set during the Revolution, culminating in the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat. The actors are the inmates of the asylum, with the occasional appearances of the nurses and supervisors to keep order; and the performance is overseen by the bourgeois director of the hospital, accompanied by his wife and daughter.

Nothing particularly risqué so far. But, around 200 audience members walked out on the performance during the interval due to the plays “disgusting” and “shocking” nature. So why were the audience so shocked?


Scenes included the De Sade dressing as a woman and being put through sadomasochist torture via taser while reciting a part of the story; the appearance of the crucifix upside down; De Sade being gang raped by the inmates of the asylum; and mocking religion by showing a bishop flatulating in the faces of believers.

And although these things sound terrible, they are justified because the play holds up a mirror to our society and shows us what is really happening in world. Audience members that walk out of the show can’t face the reality of the real world and the horrors that surround us.


Director Anthony Neilson had the brilliant vision of breaking the barrier between cast and audience members to make us feel we’re part of the experience; the sense that we’re in the play, watching the play within the play.

Having the “inmates” all around us gave off an intimidating, uncomfortable feeling, having ladders on the stage above the audience so the performers can occasionally climb up and look down on us. As well as the complimenting soundtrack and great effective lighting, the use of modern technology to relate its message to a modern audience was clear; how the inmates were controlled by mobile phones could be interpreted that we depend on mobile phones in our everyday lives.

But the major element that carried the performance was the high quality of acting made by the cast. To do this sort of play is a big challenge and with proof that they can have a certain effect on you, they pulled it off fantastically and deserve praise.

READ: Leo Parker-Rees’s take on the theatre walk-outs here.