THEATRE Marat / Sade Olivier, RNT, London

To join The Caucasian Chalk Circle in this first in-the-round season in the Olivier, the National Theatre has chosen another work that predominantly exists as a play-within-a-play. The heightened sense you get of being voyeurs when seated round a dramatic action in a self-aware ring should be of particular benefit to a staging of the Marat / Sade. Set in an asylum in 1808, it makes you privy to a performance, put on by the inmates, of a play about the historical events leading up to the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat.

There are disturbing overlaps between what is portrayed in this show - overseen and scripted by their fellow patient, the Marquis de Sade - and the inmates' own situation. "We want revolution - now!" they sing, as they re-enact a demonstration by the poor through Paris. Though the asylum authorities insist that the play is about remote historical events, a far cry from their own enlightened Napoleonic times, the past functions as a subversive mirror of the present. Playing starving revolutionaries, the inmates highlight their own status as prisoners demanding liberation. A production of Marat / Sade needs to convince you that the situation in the theatre could get dangerously out of hand. But Jeremy Sams's disappointing revival is an uncomfortable experience only in the sense of not being nearly uncomfortable enough.

One of the most distressing evenings of my reviewing life was up in Edinburgh at a Grassmarket project piece about young people in prison for serious crimes like rape and violent robbery. It was performed under the watchful eyes of warders and police, by a mix of real-life cases and actors. The combination of high-risk emotional volatility and disturbance on stage, and the surrounding images of armed restraint, was deeply upsetting and I remember thinking at the time that this must have been what it was like watching Peter Brook's legendary 1964 RSC staging of Marat / Sade.

Throughout the National Theatre version, the lunatics are all too clearly actors doing standard-issue mad turns, whereas in the Brook production, the performers had been encouraged in rehearsal to dig out the very particular mad person that lies in each individual. The results, we gather, were frighteningly authentic. "We were all convinced that we were going loony," remarked the then non-ministerial Glenda Jackson. In the Olivier, the one performer who convinces you that she is cut off unreachably in some confused private world of pain is Anastasia Hille, transfixing as the flounderingly narcoleptic Charlotte Corday.

The running debate in the piece between Marat and Sade ("On the one side he who thinks our lives/ can be improved with axes and knives/ Or the one who'd submerge his imagination/ seeking a personal annihilation") is conducted with clarity and vigour by David Calder - who brings a toying, sardonically triumphalist quality to Sade's role as ringmaster of this weird philosophical review, and a passionate conviction to his anti-idealism - and by a gravelly, Scots-accented Corin Redgrave, who indicates to just the right degree that this is not Marat but a paranoiac patient playing Marat as he sits, a mass of skin disease, in his bathtub.

The indignant interventions of Clifford Rose's asylum director kept reminding me of the headmaster's periodic pompous protests at the school play (another historical pageant with song and dance) in Alan Bennett's Forty Years On, the format of which is uncannily like that of the Marat/ Sade. It says something about the over-light tone of this production that you're free to make such a connection. In rep. Booking: 0171-928 2252

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine