Marat/Sade and German theatre

19 May

What do gimp masks, cucumbers, shorts worn as thongs, bum slapping, penises, showers, colonic irrigation and breasts have in common? No, it’s not what you’re thinking; they all appear in the Staatschauspiel Dresden’s version of “Die Verfolgung und Ermordung Jean Paul Marats dargestellt durch die Schauspielgruppe des Hospizes zu Charenton unter Anleitung des Herrn de Sade” which surely competes for the longest play title ever. It is translated into English as “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”, more commonly known as “Marat/Sade” by Peter Weiss.

The play is based around the French Revolution and depicts Marat’s call to revolution as well as the reactions and resulting disappointment of those around him. However, as you’ve probably already gleaned from the title, Marat/Sade is a play within a play, as of course I wasn’t being entertained by members of a French mental institution. In fact, as the play begins, we are even welcomed by the narrator (Ausrufer) of the play to the Staatschauspielhaus Dresden and during the play it seemed (unless I misheard) that the actors were addressed in one of three ways: their actual names; their character names as mental patients; and the name of the characters from the time of the French Revolution. Accordingly, all three time dimensions or realities seemed to merge in places.

Something I always enjoy watching (especially when it’s done right) is an actor playing an amateur actor performing a play. Of course you cannot be so awful that the audience gets bored but at the same time you need to retain a believability in a character who, here, is not only an amateur actor but also a mental patient. The allusion was created effectively through subtle mistakes being made, fake prompts, occasional moments of going off the rails and ranting about something completely off topic and the fact that the seven actors all remained on stage even when it wasn’t ‘their go’: shaving their legs; having a shower; doing yoga; reading a book; getting changed; having a nap. The actors are totally relaxed on stage and are obviously a great and supportive team- there was a great amount of nudity in the play, as well, so I guess that is needed.

It’s notable that one of Weiss’ inspirations was Brecht (writing less than a decade after the latter’s death) and that was very much evident not only in the lack of distinction between actor and character portrayed but also in the frequent songs, which I wasn’t expecting, having not yet studied the play (it will be one of my dissertation texts).

German theatre continues to amaze, shock and entertain me and I’ve been so lucky to be staying near a city with an amazing ensemble theatre. I’d seriously never seen theatre like this before. If you are into theatre, it can be so enlightening to go to see a play in a different country and in a different language. Even if you don’t understand everything, sometimes the sets, costumes and effects are worth it alone. If you happen to be in Dresden, pop along to Marat/Sade. For something a little closer to home, the RSC are performing the play in English from the 14th October to the 5th November this year. Although it will undoubtedly be a very different production, I do recommend the play and the RSC are sure to do it justice.

For a dose of German theatre in England check out NeatFestival in Nottingham where the Deutsches Theater Berlin will be performing “Faust” in German (with English subtitles). I’ve only been to the Berliner Ensemble theatre in Berlin but it is sure to be an experience at least if you can make it! (3rd-4th June). There are also other foreign language plays on.

For production photos of the adaption I saw, click here .

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