The title of the play is actually called “ The Persecution and Assassination of Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade”. The title leaves you in no doubt what the play is all about.
This play within a play is set in an asylum in 1808, where the inmates act out the events leading up to the death of Marat. The drama examines the actions of Jean-Paul Marat during the French Revolution as well as examining the true meaning of a revolution and who are the real winners. Do the people really win their freedom and a better life, or do they just put into place another dictator?
Although the play is bold and inventive and has some memorable and clever scenes, it does lack a certain drive and momentum and most importantly suspense. There are a lot of gruesome and offensive scenes , which I’m sure in the 60s, when the play was written could have been shocking. However with what you see in the West End nowadays, this play is quite tame.
The acting is first rate with fine performances from Corin Redgrave (Marat) and David Calder (de Sade). However the best performances are from Richard McCabe who plays the narrator Herald, and Anastasia Hille as Charlotte Corday the woman who kills Marat.
The stage is set in the round as it was for the “Caucasian Chalk Circle”, but with less effect this time. The set did not have any atmosphere that made it feel like an Asylum, but the actors sure made up for this.
The critics were not too impressed with the play, CHARLES SPENCER of THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says “There are times when you wish you were sitting anywhere other than in a theatre and this was one of them.” and NICHOLAS DE JONGH of THE EVENING STANDARD said “Lily-livered revival fails to land the punches.” However, BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE of THE TIMES was not too scathing of the play and was indeed particularly impressed with Anastasia Hille's Charlotte Corday describing her performance as moving him.
This drama is a required taste, some will love the way it is done, others will be bored. Me? I was somewhere in the middle.