Soulpepper Company Member Mikaela Davies discusses the making of Marat/Sade
Marat/Sade is a huge ensemble piece which is rarely done on professional stage. How do you describe this play to others?
The complete title of the play tells us the facts of the story: The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade. There’s a beautiful irony to a group of people locked up in a cage putting on a play about the French Revolution and its fight for freedom, equality and brotherhood. The inmate’s production challenges them to negotiate their own relationship to these ideals behind bars.
What is particularly striking about this version?
In our version of the play we are set in 2015 Canada and have shifted the focus from the performers being in an asylum to a prison. Peter Weiss wrote this play during the 1960s in Germany, using the French Revolution to speak to the political unrest in his country at that time. Albert Schultz, our director, has set our production in the present and the meaning has shifted to address our own issues as a nation, with echoes of G20, Guantanamo Bay, and the plight of our First Nations. Fifty-two years after publication the play is still strikingly relevant.
In the same way that we are using anachronisms in our setting of the story, Mike Ross, our musical director, has set his original music to a mixture of genres. From revolutionary anthems, to soft rock love ballads and rebellious punk, music is at the heart of our production. Mike has been able to access the patriotism, rage, idealism, chaos and sex that are at the centre of the story.
What is your role in the play?
I play Rossignol, a prostitute who is one of the inmates in the institution and cast as one of the five singers in the French Revolution play. The singers serve as a musical Greek chorus commenting and elevating the action of the piece through song.
What was rehearsal like for this production?
This has been the most unique rehearsal process I’ve ever been a part of. Most of the cast are playing inmates who have little to no experience performing in plays so they are dealing with nerves and in some cases mental illnesses as they perform their roles. We have a giant copy of the script on stage with one of the inmates as a prompter who tries to keep everyone on track if someone forgets their lines or the order of the scenes. Albert has purposely crafted in loosely staged moments which add to a real feeling of “what am I supposed to be doing now?” None of the cast ever leaves the stage and the performance pressure creates a heightened awareness and interaction with the audience which changes from night to night. It is an exhilarating ride.
What makes this a must-see play?
Marat/Sade is offensive, sexy, and very funny and has something to say about our government and country. I wish I had seen a production like this when I was in theatre school. It would have opened up my ideas of what theatre could be. The play challenges conventional audience expectations. The fourth wall is consistently broken, the audience is thrown into the spotlight and I hope challenged to confront their own beliefs and participation in the political apathy of our society.
For tickets and more information visit soulpepper.ca
Mikaela Davies, photo: Nathan Kelly. Stuart Hughes & ensemble, photo: Cylla von Tiedemann. Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Hailey Gillis, Mikaela Davies & Stuart Hughes, photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.