Page last updated at 12:02 GMT, Thursday, 19 March 2009

Mixed reviews for Dame Judi play

Dame Judi Dench in Madame de Sade (photo by Johan Persson)
Dench plays a noblewoman outraged by the Marquis de Sade's antics

Critics have been largely unimpressed by Madame de Sade, the latest show in the Donmar Warehouse season in London's West End, starring Dame Judi Dench.

Written by Japanese playwright Yukio Mishima, the drama focuses on how the debauchery of the notorious Marquis de Sade affected his wife Renee.

Rosamund Pike plays the title character with Dench playing her outraged mother. De Sade himself does not appear.

According to the Daily Mail, the result is "desperately heavy going".

"Not even the presence of Dame Judi Dench can prevent it turning into 115 minutes of verbal and visual punishment," wrote reviewer Quentin Letts.

The Guardian's Michael Billington praised the "breathtaking" acting and staging of Michael Grandage's visually "stunning" production.

However, he continued, the play itself - set in Paris in the decade preceding the French Revolution - "is an example of the Higher Tosh".


Yukio Mishima was a prolific author and playwright whose career came to an abrupt end in 1970 when he committed ritual suicide.

Madame de Sade, suggests Daily Express reviewer Paul Callan, reflects Mishima's fascination with "the beauty of pain, sex and death."

Rosamund Pike in Madame de Sade (photo by Johan Persson)
Former Bond girl Rosamund Pike plays the conflicted title character
However, the focus on "one of history's most disgusting and depraved sexual monsters" does not stop the play becoming "an increasingly tedious torrent of florid verbiage".

Dame Judi, Mr Callan continues, gives a "somewhat weary performance" that suggests her "heart is not really in it".

In The Times, Benedict Nightingale salutes the "hard work" of Dame Judi in what he describes as "an unrewarding part".

"Michael Grandage has proved he can turn just about any old play into gold," he opined.

Mishima's 1965 work, however, "resisted even this director's alchemy" with its "clunky" language and "florid" metaphors.

The conversations between the characters, he continues, "are static, self-consciously literary and pretty stilted".


Dame Judi previously acted alongside Rosamund Pike in the 2002 James Bond film Die Another Day.

She last appeared on stage in 2006 in the Royal Shakespeare Company's musical version of The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Madame de Sade, the third of four productions in the Donmar's year-long West End residency, also features Frances Barber as a countess fascinated by de Sade's carnal experiments.

The season concludes in May with a production of Hamlet starring Jude Law in the title role.

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