24/10/2011 10:24 BST | Updated 24/12/2011 05:12 GMT

Audiences Walk Out Of RSC's Performance Of Marat/Sade

Scenes of rape, torture and nudity have forced up to 80 theatre-goers to walk out of a Royal Shakespeare Company production.

A dwarf performing fellatio on a bishop, mimicked masturbation, and Nicholas Day's character, an actor more well-known for his roles in shows such as Minder and Midsomer Murders, gang-raped with a sex toy, are among some of the scenes that have outraged audiences.

The play Marat/Sade by Swedish playwright Peter Weiss is being staged for the company's 50th birthday.

One theatre-goer, Kate Dee, 25 from Worcester told the Daily Telegraph: "It was utter filth and depravity. The rape scene came just before the interval, and many people did not return for the second half."

Set in an 18th century lunatic asylum, the 'play within a play' depicts libertine aristocrat Marquis de Sade directing his own performance about the life of political thinker Jean Paul Marat, using the lunatic inmates as actors within his stage show.

Described as one of the RSC's "early defining hits" its 1960s performances, directed by Peter Brook, picked up four Tony awards, and ran on Broadway for six months.

However Scottish playwright Antony Neilson’s version is accused of taking it "too far". A Gaddafi-esque figure parades among the perverted antics of sick inmates, while a clergyman breaks wind over asylum seekers' heads. A transvestite, who later dresses in an Islamic burka, is tasered with an electric shock gun.

The company has defended the performance, whose full title is The Persecution and Assassination of Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, saying that people knew before they came that the play was going to be shocking. Michael Boy, the RSC’s artisit director, told the Telegraph:

"Marat/Sade changed the face of British theatre when it premiered in 1964,"

"I asked Anthony Neilson to direct a new version for our 50th birthday celebrations, because he has the courage and the insight to revisit the play afresh once more."

"It's a controversial play because the subjects it explores - insanity, individuality, sexuality, the abuse of power, freedom versus control - are just as sensitive today as they were in the 1960s.”

"Theatre should bring people together and take the risk of sharing sensitivities in public."