The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, commonly known as Marat/Sade, changed theatre for ever when it premiered in the 1960s.
Set in 1808 in the bath hall of a French provincial asylum where the Marquis de Sade often performed plays with the inmates during his imprisonment, this play-within-a-play presents a re-enactment of the brutal murder of revolutionary firebrand Marat by the demented partisan and fellow revolutionary Charlotte Corday.
New Theatre’s production views Weiss’s ground-breaking play about the French Revolution and its aftermath through the prism of a modern day Theatre of Cruelty: the decade and a half from the Twin Towers to the mess in Syria. In this bawdy, bloody, unrelenting political parable of class struggle and human suffering, we can see parallels with the lives of people currently seeking refuge from war and revolution, only to end up in the madness of detention centres around the world.
New Theatre has been planning a production of this extraordinary play for a number of years, so when director Barry French approached us to pitch a production, the stars aligned. “I first saw Marat Sade in 1980 at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg and it made a huge impression on me,” says French.
“I have since talked to many other older actors who saw it in 1964 in the England and in later productions elsewhere. Almost universally this play, ostensibly telling the story of characters in and around the French Revolution, seems to have left a lasting impression on its audience. I wondered why, what might make a modern audience reared on the overstimulated world of screens and CGI, sit back and reflect on its relevance.”
What struck French was the fact that nothing had changed, from the early 1960’s when Peter Weiss wrote the play, to now. “The arguments are still the same: who controls the markets, who controls the government, the profiteering from war the disconnect between the rulers and the people,” said French.
“The French Revolution overthrew one oppressive system, the monarchy and replaced it with a reign of terror by the bourgeoisie, in turn overthrowing them and finally settling on military rule. This could be anywhere in the middle east, right now. In the end I thought about what is happening right on our doorstep: asylum seekers fleeing persecution, revolution and destruction in their own homes are being locked up to serve as examples to others not to seek our help. ”
That led to an interesting proposition: what if this play, written as though told by the inmates of the asylum of Charenton, was instead being told by the inmates of a modern-day asylum centre? “I am fully aware of the inconsistencies,” says French. “But I believe there is enough of a parallel to bring a modern audience along with us and help them reflect on the similarities.
“For those of us who are concerned with the situation – and the recent screening of Chasing Asylum, a documentary on the abysmal situation in Manus Island and Nauru, tells me many of us are – I believe this is a story worth telling at this time.”
French has assembled a multi-cultural cast, with actors from Indian, Sri Lankan, Greek, and Rwandan heritage mixing it with the Anglos, and he has also embraced a gender-blind approach to casting, with a number of male roles being played by women, led by Annette van Roden as Jean-Paul Marat, while Garreth Cruikshank embodies a women’s part as Simmone Evrard.
The creative team includes Tom Bannerman (set) who has excelled himself on putting together a set unlike anything you’ve seen on the New Theatre stage before. Exploring the physical possibilities of our theatre has been an exciting initiative on the part of a couple of designers this year, starting with The Heidi Chronicles reconfiguring the space into traverse. His set for Marat/Sade takes this even further, enhanced by Sprios Hristias’s lighting design.
Costume designer Nicola Block, who makes her New Theatre debut with this production, has created a very simple design with middle eastern influences, yet still undeniably French. And New Theatre welcomes back Nate Edmondson, one of Australia’s foremost composers and sound designers, who has written an original score for this production.
Director: Barry French Cast: Tom Aldous, Kaiya Bartholomew, Andrea Blight, Debra Bryan, Lyn Collingwood, Garreth Cruikshank, Tahlia Hoffman Hayes, Tim De Sousa, Gregory Dias, Patrick Howard, Isaro Kayitesi, Mark Langham, Leilani Loau, Jim McCrudden, Lynn Roise, Emmanuel Said, Irene Sarrinikolaou, Alia Seror-O’Neill, Liam Smith, Peter Talmacs, Annette van Roden, Jacque Vickers Composer: Nate Edmondson Set Designer: Tom Bannerman Lighting Designer: Spiros Hristias Costume Designer: Nicola Block Assistant Director: Shannan Ely Dramaturg: Helen Tonkin Psych Consultant: Joy Stewart Production Supervisor: Martin Kelly Production Manager: Sheridan Tampion Stage Manager: Rosane McNamara Assistant Stage Manager: Ricci Costa Costume Assistant: Catriona McCabe Operators: Ole Borch, Scott Bray, Laura Smith
Marat / Sade
New Theatre, 542 King Street, Newtown
Season: 6 October – 5 November 2016 (preview: 5 October)
Information and Bookings: www.newtheatre.org.au
Image: Marat / Sade – photo by Bob Seary