A lot of Americans are so seasoned from high school English class that if you mention Shakespeare, they immediately start nodding off. Most people don't exactly associate Shakespeare and the theatre with the stuff of nightmares. However, there is actually a long history of graphic stage plays, full of all manner of depravity. You can find everything - from brutality to explicit intimacy to cannibalism - in plays going back hundreds and even thousands of years. A lot of people don't know that the kind of stuff that goes down in modern theatre makes Criminal Minds look like an adult coloring book.
People have been fascinated with the darker aspects of human nature since the first days of our recorded history, and nothing quite shows it off like these gruesome theatrical entries. Barbarity in theatre has a bloody history and terrifying current presence, which has caused everything from actual uproars to theater-goers fainting in their seats in large numbers. If you like the bloody, the weird, the graphic, and the strange, check out this list of totally twisted stage plays.
Britain's National Theater's revival of Sarah Kane's Cleansed raised hell for theater goers in early 2016. The play, which features terrifying scenes of nightmarish brutality, caused five people to faint and 40 people to walk out during the first week of its run. It reportedly even gave the cast nightmares.
The play explores a university that transforms into a sadistic and totalitarian spectacle of physical harm and graphic, involuntary relations. From force-feedings to electrocutions, Cleansed has shocked and appalled theater-goers since its debut in 1998.
This incredibly intense Broadway classic created by musical theater genius Stephen Sondheim features a ferocious barber on a blood-soaked revenge quest. He slits the throats of almost anyone who comes in for a shave. His accomplice Mrs. Lovett disposes of the bodies by making them into meat pies, which she then sells to the people of London.
This black comedy has a tragic ending and features more capital offenses that an entire season of Law and Order. In fact, Lovett and Todd share an entire pun-filled duet joking about how the different professions of their victims will make for different tasting meat pies.
In 1897, French playwright Oscar Metenier bought a small theater in Paris. It became known as The Theatre du Grand-Guignol and for decades some of the most twisted and shocking plays of the day were staged there. Metenier was succeeded only a year later by director Max Maurey, who judged the success of his shows by how many people fainted during them. He even had a doctor present during performances to treat terrified audience members.
From 1898 to 1914 his predecessor, Max Maurey, was behind plays like L'Homme de la Nuit (The Man of the Night), which explored necrophilia. His shows commonly depicted insanity, sexual relations, brutalism, and foul play.
In 1965, Edward Bond's play Saved horrified British audiences. It famously features a scene depicting a group of young men goading each other into stoning a baby in its carriage. According to the original cast, this had to be done very carefully so the rocks didn't bounce off of the carriage and hit audience members.
This rarely revived play had a large part in abolishing theater censorship in Britain and is considered a modern masterpiece, despite its rather graphic nature - proving that violence, when not gratuitous - can be a powerful narrative tool.