Review: Blasted – Lyric Hammersmith ****

Sarah Kane’s work is usually the province of textual study, her words confined to student reading lists, so it is a treat to see Blasted performed on a British stage. Brutal and uncompromising, treat may appear an incongruous word to describe Kane’s shocking first play, but if you long for theatre that will engender a visceral and questioning response, then there is no other description more apt.

It is also a pleasure to see such an elegantly pared down production that allows this playwright’s blistering poetry to shine. With an eye for the dead pan, Sean Holmes succeeds in bringing out Kane’s undeniable humour. In doing so he underlines the humanity in her characters, making their harrowing actions all the more potent; these are not cartoon villains, but real people who laugh and cry, shit and die.

But whilst initial critical response was to condemn this as a juvenile attempt to shock, Blasted is a play steeped in both poetry and history

Masturbation, anal rape, the sucking out of a character’s eyes and perhaps most famously, the eating of a dead baby, there really is very little that Kane does not throw at both her characters and the audience. But whilst initial critical response was to condemn this as a juvenile attempt to shock, Blasted is a play steeped in both poetry and history (Edward Bond’s Saved where a baby is stoned to death is an apt example). Kane’s angry voice is despairing at the inherent violence, both politically and personally, that infuses the world in which we live.

Often likened to Sylvia Plath, it is here Kane deviates from this other great writer by focusing on experiences that are not just her own. It is astonishing how perceptibly she evokes male feelings of impotency and discontent within Blasted.

Holmes deals with every monstrosity with a lightness of touch and whilst this is not a flashy production this cast communicate each moment with disturbing clarity. From Lydia Wilson’s jittery Cate to Danny Webb’s rotted Ian, these are subtle yet complex performances; even Aidan Kelly’s gruesome soldier seems like a broken innocent.

Paul Wills’ slit eyed hotel room adds the right sense of bourgeois claustrophobia, exploding into a cathedral of cross like beams which mock our increasingly desperate characters. Simple but sophisticated Paule Constable’s lighting hints at the true extent of each act of horror shown.

However the true horror does not lie in these staged moments of violence; it is in the continuous and rumbling dread which underpins Kane’s taut text. An organ that grinds painfully into life, this is a piece of theatre that takes no prisons. But like all of Kane’s work the rewards for those who fully invest are undeniable, with the final act of compassion proving profoundly moving.

**** (4 stars)
Runs until 20 November 2010
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