A lot of Americans are so scarred from 7th grade English class that if you mention Shakespeare they immediately start nodding off, and people don't exactly associate 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 violence to sex to cannibalism and even necrophilia 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 death and 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. Violence in theatre has a bloody history and terrifying current presence, which has caused everything from actual riots 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.
Cleansed - A Spectacle of Rape and Mutilation That Made People Faint
While people fainting during a play sounds like something that would have happened in the 1860's, 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 violence, caused five people to faint and almost 50 people to walk out during the first week of its run. It is even gave the cast nightmares.
The play explores a university which transforms into a sadistic and totalitarian spectacle of rape and mutilation. From force feedings to electrocutions, Cleansed has shocked and appalled theater goers since its debut in 1998.
Sweeney Todd - A Throat-Slitting, People-Eating Good Time
This incredibly violent Broadway classic created by musical theater genius Stephen Sondheim features a murderous 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 murders 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.
L'Homme de la Nuit (The Man of the Night) - Brutal Violence and Necrophilia Abound
In 1897 French playwright Oscar Metenier bought a small theater in Paris. It became known as the The Theatre du Grand-Guigonol and for decades some of the most twisted, violent, 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 1898-1914 he was behind plays like L'Homme de la Nuit (The Man of the Night), which explored necrophilia. His shows commonly depicted insanity, sex, violence, and murder.
Saved - A Savage Stoning, Live on Stage
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 to death in it's carriage. According to the original cast, this had to be done very carefully so the rocks didn't bounce off of the carriage and injure 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.