Whether reading or watching a performance, Marat/Sade is neither a comfortable nor an immediately enjoyable play. The work, whose full title is 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, is more commonly known by its truncated name. The play was first performed in West Berlin at the Schiller Theater in 1964 and directed by Konrad Swinarski. It was not until British director Peter Brook staged an English language version in London, however, that Weiss and his play received wide acclaim. That production, staged in 1964 at the Aldwych Theatre, brought Marat/Sade to the attention of the world as critics and audiences hailed the play's unique style and structure.
Swinarski's direction was tame compared to what Brook would do to the work in London and, the following year, in New York. According to David Richard Jones in Great Directors at Work: Stanislavsky, Brecht, Kazan, Brook: "Most audiences experienced it as powerful. Viewers showed that they were strongly affected by its magnitude, whether they walked out in anger or stayed seated, shaking, at the end. The show usually had a similar impact on critics, other theatre workers, and the actors themselves."
Audience members did storm out of performances of Marat/Sade; some viewers reacted so strongly that they became ill. "At least one spectator, the German actress Ruth Arrack, died in the auditorium during a performance," reported Jones. The fever pitch of the play's emotions, combined with its frank violence and brutality, led many of the play's detractors to label it as nothing more than "shock theatre."
Debate existed among critics about the value of the play. Some suggested that the real meaning of the play was perhaps ambiguous. The majority of critics, however, felt that the ambiguity of the play was intentional and a means to force the audience to assess the proceedings and come to their own conclusions. Despite what some perceived as a lack of resolution in Marat/Sade, all who viewed the production agreed that it was a spectacle the likes of which the London and New York stages rarely saw.