Incendiary play about Paris riots gets first showing

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The Independent Culture

The Massacre was a play that was written 200 years ago for the British stage but was never performed because of its inflammatory depiction of the infamous ‘September massacres’ during the French revolution in1792.

But finally, Elizabeth Inchbald’s incendiary piece which was based on her own eye-witness accounts of riots, bloody genocides and violence spilling out of Paris to the provinces beyond, will be shown before a paying audience.

In it, Inchbald referred to the wave of mob violence which overtook the capital in the late summer of 1792 during the revolution. By the time the trouble subsided, half the prison population of Paris had been executed including many women and young boys.

The Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds is to stage the professional premiere of the play written more than two centuries ago in response to the French revolution which was suppressed due to its “politically inflammable content”.

The theatre said its decision to do so was to due to its relevance to the modern world. The production will feature a multicultural cast with actors hailing from diverse cultural backgrounds including Northern Ireland, Somalia, India and Pakistan, according to The Stage newspaper.

A statement from the theatre read: “The Massacre will be given a bold and uncompromising dramatisation, staying true to the play’s original intentions as a provocative intervention and commentary on all contemporary acts of war, genocide, poltiical, social and racial discrimination.”

In the late 1700s, the play was thought to be unhealthy for British audiences because it advocated freedom of expression, female equality, and human rights and attacked all acts of violence.

Colin Blumenau, the Theatre Royal’s artistic director, explained: “Inchbald wrote the piece as part of a political discussion about acts of aggressive retribution and violations of human rights based on the atrocities being perpetrated across the Channel in France. Its messages are as poignant today as they have always been, giving the production universal historical reference points and cultural identity is a way of generalising her specific target. This production will have a striking visual identity which will perfectly compliment the powerful messages it contains. It is, without doubt, one of the most important plays I have ever directed.”

By the time Inchbald wrote The Massacre, she had already achieved national acclaim through her satirical comedies which were popular and witty works with exciting plotlines and beautiful prose. Despite the entertainment value of these comedies, Inchbald used them as platforms to air her political viewpoints. Her play, Lovers’ Vows, written in 1798, was featured by Jane Austen in her novel, Mansfield Park.

The Massacre was her own written tragedy and although it represented some of her best writing, she was advised by her contemporaries that its content was too contentious to produce. The play was shelved, never to be performed, until its modern day restoration, which will run at the Theatre Royal from 23 to 27 June.

It was, however, in private circulation during Inchbald’s lifetime, being peformed in literary and theatrical circles and influencing, to some degree, the politics of 18th century Britain.

Inchbald was educated with her sisters at home but at the age of 19 she went to London in order to act. She was apparently the victim of sexual harassment and in 1772 she agreed to marry the actor Joseph Inchbaldm, possibly for protection. She counted Sarah Siddons and John Philip Kemble, who were among the most acclaimed actors of the day, among her friends.