The University of Johannesburg presented Marat/Sade as their student piece. Directed by Alby Michaels, this was an interesting work, although at times it was difficult to watch. Set on 13 July 1808 in the Charenton Asylum, the infamous Marquis de Sade is directing the inmates in a play being watched by the director and his guests. During the interval the director joined us, his guests. The action is a look back to 13 July 1793 when Jean-Paul Marat was assassinated. The work is a translation of the German play with the very long 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 – by Peter Weiss. It is a multi-media presentation, but it is the action on the stage which is so powerful.
The pathetic condition of the inmates is gut-wrenching and one is aware that even now the conditions and treatment of those with mental illness are ethically problematic. This comparison is forced on one by the director who has costumed the play in contemporary costuming. The nurses wear their practical white and the inmates wear their contemporary underwear right down to their disposable adult diapers, while the audience is dressed as we are.
Of course, once one made the historical/contemporary connection in the asylum, then one automatically continues it into the historical/contemporary political situations, especially as the dates of the action mirror the twenty years since the Revolution (14 July 1889) with our twenty years since our first democratic elections.
Ultimately is the skill of the director which one applauds as one is guided through the maze of this play within a play. I thought this was an excellent work, but, once again, heavy going at an emotional level. Jenna Dunster played Charlotte Corday and she was excellent in the role. She is a professional actress. There are only two other professional actors in the show, Mothusi Magano as the intellectual protaganist, Marquis de Sade, and Jaques Bessenger as the idealistic Marat. It is, however, not the professionals who make up the show. It is the entire ensemble, beautifully crafted by the students under excellent direction by Alby Michaels. Every character was magnificent and this was true whether the character had a speaking part or not. I was mesmerized by some of these performances, even to the point of having my attention diverted from the main action. This made me want to see the production again.
Choreography was by master of movement, Craig Morris, Franco Prinsloo directed the music very well. Altogether this was a most excellent production. Well done to everyone concerned.
Still coming to the University of Johannesburg stages are Shakespeare’s Othello directed by Clare Mortimer, The Truth About You written by Grace Meadows and Denzel Edgar and directed by Grace Meadows, performed by Motlatji Ditodi and then three productions for the National Arts Festival, pppeeeaaaccceee by Darren O’Donnell, Directed by Alby Michaels, starring UJ alumni Matt Counihan, Motlatji Ditodi and Thato Motsepe, and The Boy Who Walked into the World by Robin Malan, directed by Motlatji Ditodi and What the Water Gave Me by Rehane Abrahams, directed by Jade Bowers, Performed by Cherae Halley.