Blasted by Sarah Kane at The Lyric Hammersmith – Review

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Reviled. Respected. Revived. Is the tagline the Lyric Hammersmith are using with this production. It’s a great overview of this plays history. Indeed in the theatre world the play is notorious. I had to read it fairly soon in my first unit at college and it left an indelible mark on me and my views on theatre ever since.

Sarah Kane’s influence on current theatre is undeniable, and I mentioned that in a previous post here.

When I read in The Stage several months ago that the Lyric Hammersmith was to put a revival of Sarah Kane’s Blasted on, I was excited and also impressed that the Artistic Director Sean Holmes had such balls to revived this play. It will be fascinating to see how at the end of this months run the play has been received again, 15 years after its first furor.

Having read the play, I’ve always wondered how it would be staged, and so I had unusually high expectations prior to seeing this. I was also apprehensive, it’s hardly the kind of play you can “enjoy” in a traditional sense, I knew what to expect, would I find it more shocking actually seeing it live on stage?

One thing I love about the Lyric is the fabulous Cafe Brera, which is wonderful space to chill and chat before and after the play. Which with a play like this I feel it’s really important to have space afterwards to chat through with others what you’ve just seen. It was also a real treat to be able to chat to the cast members after the play.

As the theatre filled up last night, I was struck by the eclectic group that was filling the seats, although most notably there were large contingents of drama students. Last night was the 2nd night of previews, the official press night is 28th October, so my review is based on a PREVIEW performance.

The cast is; Lydia Wilson as Cate, Danny Webb as Ian and Aidan Kelly as Soldier. Who all performed superbly. This is a hard play to act, it’s extremely physical and with such a small cast the actors often have to hold our attention purely on their own. They also have to act out some rather grotesque scenes.

Lydia Wilson’s performance of Cate was different to how I’d imagined her being from reading the play, but having now seen the play, I think Lydia captured Cate’s character superbly. She’s a hard character to “place”, and as we see her journey throughout the play, I was genuinely moved especially at the end when she comes back in to share her food and drink with Ian. Her fits were especially well done and gave me an appreciation of how vulnerable Cate is to the people around her, who wish to take advantage. Her lines about suicide are especially pertinent and had a strange effect on me as Sarah Kane’s suicide in 1999, does haunt her work.

Danny Webb’s portrayal of Ian really challenged me, discussing it with a friend afterwards we both agreed we felt sympathy for him, yet weren’t sure why! He’s not a hero in any sense of the word but I really felt for him as the fear he had, was tangible. During the more harrowing scenes I was wincing and moved by the realism he gave to them, so often violence on stage can come across as mere pantomime, but this was too real for comfort, which was good. People around were shutting or covering their eyes and saying things such as “oh god no!”.

Aidan Kelly was really scary as the soldier, he freaked me out. How he managed to stuff the two full english breakfasts down so quickly is an art in itself! His violence though, was so well shown to simply be him caught in a cycle of violence, his wife had been raped and killed by soldiers, so now he goes around doing the same. I’ve never seen a more blunt and to the point way of demonstrating the futility of violence than the scene between the soldier and Ian in this play.

Did the play still shock?  Yes certainly, there were a good few walk outs (about 6-8 I think I counted – it was difficult, it was dark!), why they chose to leave I have no idea, but it would be fascinating to find out. I too at points thought “do I want to stay here?”, but in many ways it’s good to be made uncomfortable as it can teach us what we have going on inside ourselves. The violence is shocking, but I still believe Kane’s point that we should get more angry about the REAL violence (as all the violence portrayed in this play Kane took from real life stories) that is being perpetuated around the globe. The racism of Ian also seemed very contemporary, his fear that a minority group were “taking over” is certainly a current news story and I found his offensive and derogatory remarks deeply disturbing, yet I could see where they were coming from.

As this was the second performance there will obviously be things that will change over the next few nights, most notably the pacing, which I feel needs to be a bit tighter in places, but this will certainly come. Talking with Aiden Kelly afterwards, he rightly pointed out that much of the play can only be rehearsed when there is an actual audience present, to adapt to their reactions etc. This is especially true of this play which has more reliance on the audiences engagement/response than a great many. Getting the rhythm and pacing of this play is really hard, I felt the cast were almost there, which is commendable on only the second performance.

If you have any interest in theatre I really recommend you make your way to see this production, you may not “enjoy” it in a traditional sense, but, this is a seminal play and seeing it is a much better experience than merely reading it. Sarah Kane rightly said that theatre is the most existential form of art so seeing it is vital to understanding it.  Several people on leaving the theatre were saying, “I don’t think I’d want to see that again…but I’m glad I’ve seen it”. The cast, crew and artistic team should be congratulated for grappling with this play and putting on such an exceptional production. I also salute the Lyric for having the gumption to put this play on. It’ll be interesting to see how many years go by before anyone dares to put it on again.

The final words of the play are simply “Thank you.” My sentiments exactly, to all those involved in this production and especially to Sarah Kane for changing and challenging me and my views and theatre forever with this play.

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9 thoughts on “Blasted by Sarah Kane at The Lyric Hammersmith – Review

  1. Ahhh I really want to see this!!! I saw an amateur production of it once. It was in a small arts centre & the audience was predominantly made up of pensioners (the programme had made it sound like a war-time play, with a picture of a soldier at the side, which must be why they thought it would appeal to them as I can’t see ANY other reason why it would). And being pensioners, they sat right at the front, with the stage about half a metre away from their faces. Well, during the rape scene, which was RIGHT at the front of the stage, the entire front row walked out in disgust. It was quite something!! But ohhh I’d love to see this play again. Thanks for the review. 🙂

  2. Hi Swollen Foot (love the Greek theatre name!),

    the production you’ve seen sounds interesting! I’m not surprised at the reaction though.
    I recommend you get over to the Lyric and catch this production. If you do let me know what you thought as I’d love to see how others react to it.

  3. I just saw this play a couple days ago, because I am writing a research paper on Kane’s use of violence, and I will NEVER forget it!
    Although I would probably not want to see it again, and although during the performance, I often thought to myself “gosh I cant wait for this to end” I think that this is exactly what Kane wanted..
    Also, many seemed to think that this was her simply being all rebellious when they saw the violence, but just listening to the script in itself proves them wrong. And if that wasn’t enough, I think that if this play was nothing but a mere attempt to shock and hurt, it wouldn’t bother us or stay in our minds the way it does. We aren’t just disgusted, we are scared because we know Kane didn’t make anything up. We pretend to be ok with the world being all messed up when we watch the news, but when we are sitting down in front of the stage and we have to face this violence, that is when we question ourselves.
    So THANK YOU Sarah Kane for not being afraid of showing the truth, and thanks to anyone who helped to spread her message, making theatre much more than the simple, superficial entertainment many think it is!

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