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The Rep College - Marat/Sade

At the Corn Exchange, 14th to 16th January 2003.

This is the Newbury Weekly News review.

Life and death in the fast lane

MARAT/SADE, performed by The Rep College, at The Corn Exchange, from Tuesday, January 14 to Thursday, January 16

The Rep College has a unique mission in filling the gap in British theatre, following the demise of the repertory system, and is based on an idea of Tom Conti's that 'the only way to learn is by doing it, rehearsing and performing the play'. To this end they present 14 shows during a one-year course — that's a new show every three weeks — quite a challenge given the diverse nature of their productions.

Their debut at The Corn Exchange was an ambitious production of Peter Weiss' '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.' It is perhaps the best known example of the 'theatre of cruelty'.

This is a play within a play, set in 1808 in the bath-house of a French asylum where the erstwhile revolutionary Jean Paul-Marat is incarcerated, sitting in a bath-tub, nursing his body sores, while composing his political tracts, lamenting the failed French revolution and dreaming of a future chance of glory. Dan Schumann is a talented actor bringing a spirited performance to a difficult character.

The Marquis de Sade (a chilling performance by John Giles) is perhaps the most infamous resident and has assembled a cast of wretched inmates to perform his plays.

Lydia Gledhill was the narcoleptic Charlotte Corday who brutally murders Marat. Each of the afflicted residents has a tortured tale to tell under the control of the Herald (Vanessa Gray).

This was very much an ensemble piece including a quartet of both singers and musicians providing an ideal vehicle for the cast to display their individual talents. Special mention must be made to Sian Keyse who, although having very few lines, gave a riveting, totally convincing performance.

The minimal set of a few cell bars, French flags and uncovered rostra was disappointing, but directors David Tudor and Gareth David-Lloyd have a talented company of players, and it was a pity that they played to such a small audience.

Their next presentation is 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle' at New Greenham Arts from February 7 to 9.