Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court
19th June 2009

Jim Hutchon was at the first night:

This lengthy and complex ‘play within a play’ doesn’t roll easily off the stage, but does reward concentration. De Sade, an inmate of the enlightened asylum at Charenton, stages a play by the inmates about the murder of one of the French revolution’s key ‘citizens’, Jean-Paul Marat.
The actor playing Marat, Richard Dawes, was quickest to grasp his dual role as inmate and Marat, and kept a secure grip on his mental state while taking a good stab at the working class rhetoric of his character. Equally at home with the dual role was a droopy Catherine Bailey as a patient with sleeping sickness and Charlotte Corday, Marat’s murderer. Robert Bastian was perfectly overbearing as the Deus ex machina Herald, who helped to guide the audience through the complications of the plot.
Michael Gray as the liberated director of the asylum, Coulmier, was impressively outraged at the liberties de Sade took with his politic ‘editorial cuts’. Key to the play (and the asylum production) was Mike Gordon as de Sade, who maintained an over-arching nihilistic joy as his over-excited cast and production descended into chaos.
The simple music was a very important element of the production with excellent singing that added to the sense of occasion. The deranged antics of a very convincing gang of inmates added an evocative moving background to the practical set, though I would have preferred the echoing bath-house atmosphere of the original. John Kyte-Hunt's multi-layered production of this Peter Weiss classic has a second week’s run on the 25, 26 and 27 June.

Yvonne Gordon - freelance journalist and reviewer [Guardian series, TES, London Paper] has a review on the Essex Chronicle website

Mary Redman [Essex Chronicle, The Stage] has this review:

Having previously seen Peter Weiss's astonishing, coruscating play which dissects the French Revolution, its aftermath, the nature of incarceration and whether an action is for the greater good or not, and thus knowing (and hoping) what to expect, I was immediately drawn into the mad, mad world of Charenton as seen through the eyes and minds of John Kyte-Hunt and his tightly-bonded cast.
Although I missed Peter Brook's controversial 1960s' production, when I did at last see this play it was at E15 Theatre School as a final year production on a much wider and deeper stage than CTW's one. This production however was no less powerful on the smaller stage - in fact its size worked to its advantage by packing all the emotions in and not allowing anything to escape.
Having now looked at Weiss's script it is easy to see where the power drive comes from. Every word is packed with energy, strength and indignation which transfers itself to the cast, who only have to have the bravery and lack of inhibition to run with it. The director described the cast as suddenly coming together about a week or so ahead of the production and this is the result of their hard work and responses to the script.
Weiss uses Brechtian alienation and Artaudian theatricality to examine revolution, sexuality, psychological freedom and social inequality in the framework of a madhouse, according to one authority. It's also interesting that the Age of Enlightenment was examining so-called 'humanitarian' ways of incarceration including prisons where warders could look 360 degrees around them at the inmates.
John picked up on all these aspects and inspired his cast to give of the very best. It was so good to go back to the glory days, seeing and enjoy CTW putting on an intellectually and emotionally demanding production.
Highlights include Mike Gordon's Marquis de Sade and his description of the tearing to death of a character. His controlled voice dispassionately and in measured fashion savouring every syllable with the surgical precision of an Olivier. Telling us in exact and exquisite detail how the man was torn apart by amateur murderers.
This powerful performance was equalled in theatrical strength by that of Richard Dawes's tortured Marat, steaming with anger in his bath. His skin condition only hinted at but highlighted by a red spotlight. Equally eyecatching was Robert Bastian's The Herald, a part surely written for his talents. The Herald's lascivious
authority directing the action of the play with the famous French trois coups of his staff and his theatrical demeanour. Robert was surely revelling in this opportunity to be thoroughly wicked and Bad, wearing the Pierrot cum Revolutionary-style multicoloured outfit created for him. And to add to this character his makeup deconstructed as the evening wore on. Very reminiscent of Anthony Sher's Fool who died upside down in a dustbin in an RSC King Lear with Michael Gambon in the early 1980s.
Other glimpses I'll remember - Ben Fraser's evil pointing finger jabbing at the inmates, Sere Ogunsaya never still as Marat's nurse, Catherine Bailey sleepwalking through Charlotte Corday's life.
With the titles of scenes projected above the stage the production was steeped in Brechtian impulses. The theatrical alienation counteracted by Jane Kyte-Hunt's detailed costuming including the beautifully crafted tailcoat for Michael Gray's M. Coulmier.
The all white set worked beautifully both as bathhouse and in Brechtian terms. The cast were never out of character even during the interval the madhouse action continued so much I enjoyed myself interacting with the inmates and found it easy...
John's music and soundscape put the final icing on the theatrical cake.
Coming out of the theatre I was exhilarated at having seen something so powerful. It was as if the Revolution's nigh - and its headquarters are in Chelmsford.


Anonymous said...

So that's what they mean by Theatre of Cruelty !

Richard Broadway said...

Not only towering performances from the big three: a brooding, philosophical Sade, the paranoid people's champion Marat, and the Herald, an intense, malevolent presence, edging into every scene.
But also memorable work from Jacques Roux, the raving, rabble-rousing cleric, Simone Evrard, obsessively cleansing her master Marat and his bath, and some beautifully observed inmates, such as the gaunt, continuously twitching young man, and the vacant, pathetic waif.

A haunting theatrical vision - thank you CTW 

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