DIRECTOR: Alby Michaels

CAST: Mothusi Magano, Jacques Bessenger, Jenna Dunster, Unati Nyawo, Masibulele Masada, Stevie French, ao

SET: Nicolas Mayer

COSTUMES: Jo Glanville

RATING: Four stars (out of 5)

VENUE: UJ Arts Centre Theatre, Auckland Park

UNTIL: April 26

Paul Boekkooi

Revolution MMXIV is very much UJ Arts & Culture’s theme for this year, the 20th anniversary of our democracy. What better way to kick it off with a bang than Peter Weiss’ play Marat/Sade.

This German writer, painter, graphic artist and experimental film-maker, born in 1916, adopted Swedish citizenship and died in May 1982 in Stockholm, had an influential career. It was only when nearing his 50th year that he gained wide attention for this drama with its somehow ridiculously long drawn-out original title: The Prosecution and Assasination of Jean Paul Marat performed by the Play-acting Group at the Charenton Asylum under the direction of the Marquis de Sade.

To analyse fully the philosophical implications regarding revolution in the context of this play, one needs to arrange a symposium. Let’s not go there. The plot, set in a lunatic asylum depicts De Sade supervising a performance by patients of the murder of Marat. We are, as it were, part of the invited audience.

Marat basically is an active ideologist, a revolutionary fully believing that revolution is necessary. De Sade is the inte-llectual, the individualist who takes a subjective view even of revolution.

Marat/Sade is like a brilliantly analytical Brechtian epic, with mentally and physically tortuous play-within-a-play convulsions. Within the boundaries of this asylum we have a couple of dozen inmates with a bouquet of mental afflictions. Someone once wrote that this play is “an intellectual’s Rocky Horror Show.”

Alby Michaels, since 2004 UJ’s in-house director, displays quite a riveting grip on each character – be it on the three professionals in this show, Mothusi Magano as De Sade, Jacques Bessenger as Marat and Jenna Dunster as Charlotte Corday who assassinates Marat – as well as 30 others, mostly alumni and students, including some in their first year.

One of the most challenging gambles in a production of this magnitude is to fully focus the delineation of the main plot, but at the same time also to visually build and sustain each individual actor’s specific role within the ensemble as a whole. Michaels has an acute third eye to widen and deepen the effect this potentially can have on the final product.

So much is happening, that the audience is just about forced to wear their voyeuristic spectacles not to miss out on the spectacle. Although the staging here has an overall tableau effect, every detail is clear and not one scene ever clogs.

One cast member out of many who stood out, was, for example, Thafadzwa Samu, a first-year student from Zimbabwe, who throughout the production did not say a word. But through her movements and body language, she attracted attention in the most natural way possible. One can easily name many others who were as fully “in character” on stage during its two-and-half-hour duration.

Choreography and movement is in the more than capable hands of Craig Morris, while Franco Prinsloo’s musical direction is precise. He managed to let the vast cast sing spontaneously, yet disciplined. Especially the song in which the lyrics “population and copulation” playfully dominates, is a scream.

Marat/Sade is not a play for the squeamish or anyone shocked by references to the nether regions. It resonates clearly into this new century and era. It’s a must-see for anyone who wants to take their wings on a test flight.