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Published 29 October 2010

Playwright Sarah Kane committed suicide in 1999. After watching her seminal play, Blasted, I can better understand the sort of troubled mind she must have had to drive her to such an action.

It seems most incongruous, in hindsight, that the inoffensive elevator music of saxophonist Kenny G wafts over the Lyric Hammersmith as the audience sits awaiting the opening scene of Blasted. There is nothing inoffensive about Kane’s play.

It opens on designer Paul Wills’s hotel room set, where a young woman, Cate, waits for an older man, Ian, to get out of the shower. What relationship they have is at first not clear, but later Kane elaborates, giving us a portrait of a love-hate, mutually dependent relationship that is founded on abuse and manipulation. Undercover journalist Ian is a racist and misogynist whose life revolves around sex and violence. Cate is a troubled young woman who stutters when she gets nervous and has strange fainting fits, which Ian, sickeningly, soon takes advantage of for his own pleasure.

But when a soldier bursts into the hotel room, Kane’s play changes from a naturalistic drama to a surreal portrait of an apocalyptic world, in which the hotel is destroyed and the soldier takes Ian prisoner, subjecting him to abuses that make extremely difficult viewing. Kane is giving him his comeuppance in a brutal way. 

With rape, murder, cannibalism and graphic descriptions of torture and murder that match the physical acts in their ability to shock, Blasted is a play that makes you wonder what traumatic visions and experiences lurked in the corners of the playwright’s mind. Why write it? Why stage it? And why would actors Danny Webb (Ian), Lydia Wilson (Cate) and Aidan Kelly (the soldier) want to re-enact such abuses night after night on stage? Those were the questions that went through my mind; I found no answers, though would be interested to hear them.

If the point of theatre is to provoke a reaction, then this is theatre. But the short-sighted among us may find themselves lowering their glasses during some of the more shocking scenes. Blasted is, at times, a play best seen blurred.



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