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.

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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.