Review: Marat/Sade (Soulpepper)

Photo of Stuart Hughes and the Marat/Sade ensemble taken by Cylla von Tiedemann

Marat/Sade is delightful and chaotic on stage at the Young Centre in Toronto

Soulpepper presents Marat/Sade, written by Peter Weiss in 1963 and originally performed in German. The production explores the persecution and assassination of French revolutionist Jean-Paul Marat at the hands of Charlotte Corday in a play performed by inmates in the Asylum of Cherenton, which is directed by the Marquis de Sade.

There’s a lot going on and plenty to take in with this play within a play, and not having known much background on the play, I didn’t know what to expect. Two and a half hours later, I can tell you it’s one of the best productions I’ve seen in a while and the most fun I’ve had during a Soulpepper production.

The play is historical and the characters were real. The head of the Cherenton Asylum believed that art and personal expression were key to rehabilitation for their “patients.” As the Marquis de Sade was one of those “patients,” he presented this production of revolutionary anarchy when the authorities were expecting a respectful patriotic display.

And all of that chaotic, frenetic madness that you can expect from de Sade is bursting at the seams in this Soulpepper production, which features over 20 members of their ensemble. The stage is fenced off on all sides to create the prison where the play is performed, which is immediately striking to look at. The numerous ways in which that cage is used is remarkable — actors jump on it, climb it, scream through it, shake it, beat their fists on it, the lights play off it to great effect. It’s simply stunning.

The ensemble do fantastic work portraying the lunatic inmates. Each one of them embodies and portrays a personal story through their movements when they’re simply milling about the stage. You can’t help but focus on one of them and then follow their movements as they mill about the stage. Individually they’re captivating; working as a unit they’re a well oiled machine.

Having seen a few Soulpepper productions, I’m familiar with Diego Matamoros’ work, but he seems to really shine in his portrayal of the Marquis de Sade along with Stuart Hughes as Marat. Katherine Gauthier as Charlotte Corday also stood out to me. Her character happened to suffer from narcolepsy, and it’s impressive how often she simply collapses to the floor asleep or has to be dragged to centre stage. Gauthier possesses a quiet rage that hides behind a kitten-ish demeanour that compliments her character so well.

When it comes to staging, because there are so many actors on stage in a cage, there isn’t an off stage to go into — everyone is present during the entire production along with racks of costumes, a mess of props, instruments and such. It’s miraculous that all of these elements didn’t trip anyone up during the show; the chaos flowed together perfectly. Considering the performance included copious amounts of movement, song , live music, and movable set pieces, I was thoroughly impressed by how well blocked and choreographed it all was.

And yes, there are modern songs using modern instruments, microphones and amplifiers, and various lighting tricks that are clearly not historically accurate but add to the political statement being made. The music itself is incredible and I wish there was a soundtrack. Music director and composer Mike Ross did fine work here.

Marat/Sade is not going to be for everyone — it’s crude, loud, vulgar, sexual, there’s a bit stage violence (including a scene where Corday towel whips de Sade and she really lets him have it), there are loud abrupt noises (whistle blows), and strobe lights. If you’re sensitive to any of these, this show wouldn’t be for you but if you’re a fan of historical expressionist plays with a message, and enjoy a good bit of anarchistic pride, you don’t want to miss Marat/Sade.


  • Marat/Sade is playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane) until October 17.
  • Performances are Mondays to Saturdays at 7:30 pm with matinees at 1:30 pm. Performances are only on select dates – please see the Soulpepper calendar for more details.
  • Tickets range from $29.50 – $89 and can be purchased online, by calling the box office at (416) 866-8666, or in person.
  • Audience warning: Be advised this performance contains violence, nudity, coarse language, sexuality, strobe lights and loud sounds.

Photo of Stuart Hughes and the Marat/Sade ensemble by Cylla von Tiedemann