Much has been said of Sarah Kane and her hard-hitting and often unintelligible approach to theatre (especially in 4.48 Psychosis) but in this revival of Blasted from Sean Holmes, the central voice of her work speaks through the intensity and the horrifying events within the play. Sarah Kane herself was a traumatized person, suffering for years with severe depression that eventually led to her suicide in 1999; four years after Blasted had it’s debut performance at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs. Heralded by Aleks Sierz as a figure at the forefront of the movement in the 1990s that he dubbed ‘in-yer-face’ theatre (theatre that is designed to be vulgar, shocking and confrontational as a means of affecting an audience on a deep and challenging emotional level) she holds a special place in the history of British theatre writing. This revival of Blasted certainly gives this style a hearty and strong re-introduction to the London scene.
The curtain opens onto a simple and elegant set that is undoubtedly the most pleasant and ‘regular’ moment in the show. It gives the impression of a clean and simple lifestyle, which is something that is completely destroyed by the end of the play when the bomb-ravaged hotel is nothing but a ruined shell with a grave-to-be in the centre surrounded by death and debris. The set change to the ruins after the second scene is executed very well, with the sudden increase in space and lack of the lighting that dominated the previous scenes being an omen of what evils were to take place in the suddenly desperate world that had been hidden from us before.
The acting was as raw as the material. The stage being set in a simple way allowed the actors to explore the material to a full extent without worrying about props and the like; a string of good decisions from director Sean Holmes facilitating such necessary freedom. Aiden Kelly’s ‘Soldier’ was as harsh and brutal as a cold winter morning, breaking into the action with an assault rifle and instantly upping the tempo and changing the dynamic with unquestionable authority. Suddenly the balance of power shifted utterly and full credit goes to Aiden Kelly for his efforts to make the character so harsh as well as having to lie still and dead on stage for what must have given him far too much time to think about the play and the events therein.
Lydia Wilson’s ‘Cate’ was also subjected to a harrowing story. From her entrance I was aware that she was a young girl, probably about sixteen, not of the greatest intellect and also suffering from quite a serious stammer as well as intermittent fainting spells. Her story drags her from an uncomfortable relationship with Ian to offering herself to soldiers to abuse at will in return for food and drink at the end, returning to her helpless companion at the end, lost in a harsh reality too far out of her depth to survive for long. For someone so fresh out of drama school it was a very commendable outing.
However, special commendation has to be given to Danny Webb for his ‘Ian’. A character that must be horrendously demanding to play has not stood between him and a poignant and assured performance that stands to his credit. His series of transitions from being in control and assured of his opinions and beliefs but fearful of death to all his fears being realised and his sudden humbling were all taken in an able stride as he dominated the stage with his human reality. He managed to understand and communicate a character struggling to understand himself and facing so many things that he doesn’t know how to deal with in such a way that we, as the audience to his suffering, connect with him, identify with his pain and suffer with him; a remarkable achievement.
The play progresses from mild snaps of anger and vulgarity through hints of suggested violence and violation to horrific displays of sex, rape, torture and cannibalism on stage before the end, certainly shocking the audience to the core. As I seated myself in the auditorium I became aware of a flock of schoolgirls behind me, clearly on a school trip of some description. It seemed that they had more knowledge of what to expect than I (having no knowledge of the play at all going in) as they were saying that they were scared and didn’t know what to expect. Almost two hours of nervous laughter, screaming and hearty gasping later they were utterly silenced and I think that this is the effect that Kane would have desired her work had. Stunned silence all round. To think that man is capable of such ‘evil’ is surely a disturbing thought and it definitely disturbed, both the gabble behind me and myself as well. Deeply.
The show is a challenge to watch and is certainly successful in its intention to shock and silence us. A first rate revival with actors doing a superb job ensures the lasting success of the legacy of the troubled author and puts a notch in the positive column for the Lyric, Hammersmith. A daring production of what is, in essence, an incredibly grim play.
Grim, but well worth a visit if you’re open to being shocked and appalled, which you should be.
Written by Sarah Kane; Directed by Sean Holmes; at the Lyric, Hammersmith; starring Danny Webb, Aiden Kelly and Lydia Wilson, running 22 October 2010 - 20 November 2010.
John Ord (17/11/2010)