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August 2007 Issue
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Shock troupe prepares for French revelations

 Theatre Guild

Those interested in a history lesson about the French Revolution - albeit a confronting one - are invited to snap up tickets for this month's University of Adelaide Theatre Guild production, Marat/Sade.

Set in the aftermath of the French Revolution and directed by Harry Dewar, the internationally famous play by German dramatist Peter Weiss is considered a classic in theatrical circles.

Audiences should come with an open mind and be prepared to be challenged, lead actor Ben McCann warned.

Ben, a lecturer in French Studies at the University, plays one of two central characters in the play-within-a-play, which is based on actual characters pivotal to the French Revolution.

Marat/Sade is set in a prison and mental asylum just outside of Paris where the Marquis de Sade was imprisoned by Napoleon for 15 years for sedition and treason.

Sade, played by well-known Adelaide actor Peter Davies, passed his time in the prison and mental asylum by writing and directing plays, using his fellow inmates as actors.

The main story takes place on the eve of Bastille Day, 1808, after the French Revolution. The play directed by Sade within the story takes place in 1793, culminating with the assassination of leading French revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat.

Sade used the inmates to put forward his version of the events just after the French Revolution - an interpretation that completely contradicts the stance taken by Marat, a passionate idealist played by Ben McCann.

"The play is based on this intellectual debate between Marat and Sade, which dominates the script," Ben said.

"Sade is cynical and doesn't believe that revolutions achieve anything. He is anti-church, anti-aristocracy and anti-royal. His view is that revolutions do not change anything; they just move the power base from one corrupt group of people to another.

"Marat is the antithesis of Sade. He was a revolutionary, politician and writer who urged people to take up arms against the bourgeois and free themselves from the chains of oppression."

The debate itself is confronting, but made more so by the setting within an asylum which raises questions about control, suppression and responsibility to the less privileged.

"I expect the audience will feel quite uncomfortable when they walk into the theatre for the first time because the inmates will be mingling with them," Ben said. "As in any mental institution, they have no sense of personal space or political correctness when it comes to using bad language. This play will shock people out of their complacency."

Seasoned Theatre Guild performer and University of Adelaide graduate Simon Davey agreed that this production would "ruffle a lot of feathers". Davey, a police prosecutor, plays the asylum director, Coulmier.

Others in the cast includes Brett Carruthers, Anita Canala, Georgia Dodd, Steve Parker and April Stuart.

Marat/Sade will be held at the Little Theatre at 7.30pm on August 4, 7-11 and 14-18. Tickets are $25 full/$20 concession, and $15 for University of Adelaide students and staff for Tuesday performances. Tickets available from the Theatre Guild on (08) 8303 5999, online at or from BASS on 131 246.

Story by Candy Gibson

The Theatre Guild will stage three short performances of work by creative writing students at the University of Adelaide's Open Day on Sunday 26 August in the Reading Room, Barr Smith Library.

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Eugène Delacroix’s <i>Liberty leading the people</i> (1830)

Eugène Delacroix's Liberty leading the people (1830)
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