Thursday, 9 March 2017
by Sarah Kane
It Couldn't Happen Here
It's an expensive room in a hotel which could be anywhere, but it happens to be Leeds. There's a bed, a clock, a bunch of flowers in a vase, an ashtray, a black chair, an ensuite bathroom. Well, it is a little strange. Everything is black, even the flowers in the vase.
An overweight man occupies the room, smoking himself to death. Except that he is already dying of lung cancer and every cigarette and swig of gin could be a last hurrah or it could be force of a habit that he cannot break. Or a bit of both.
Sporadic stage directions are projected on the wall. Opposite tabloid hack Ian (Nigel Barrett), who spouts wildly racist comments without blinking and apparently leads a double life, is much younger Cate (Verity Barrett). She seems a bit, well, simple, suffers from fits yet remains a sentient, resilient being with an almost jack-in-a-box instinct for survival.
Yet she also seems to know Ian, who strips off before her, from old. And she knows his ex-wife and son as well. And then the premise of the play is truly blasted, entering another dimension including a one-man invasion of the hotel room by a starving, vengeful machine-gun toting soldier (Nima Taleghani).
Sarah Kane's 1995 play Blasted sucks the audience into a vortex of abuse, violence, rape, buggery, masturbation and cannabilism but of course it's not the list that counts but how they are linked in the play and what it all means. How thin are the walls between Leeds and violence in and outside the city and outside in the world.
The converted ambulance repair depot in Totthenham Hale has a traverse space on the warehouse floor with a steep rake of chairs for the audience on each side. Grace Smart's set design has dotted lines on the floor marking the demarcation lines beween rooms. Chalk shapes enclose words indicating "window", "clock" and so on.
The play itself certainly still has power - as does Shakespeare's King Lear or Titus Andronicus or, as the playwright herself pointed out, some portions of the Bible. Ali Pidsley directs a mostly clear and lucid production with effective and affective lighting by Matthew Vile and sound by Kieran Lucas.
There have been many more conflicts since Bosnia and we're now more likely to read about the almost full gruesome details through official or unofficial channels since the spread of the internet. Police, journalists and state authorities are no longer the sole conduits, selecting details for public consumption.
So it makes sense to have a faintly satirical art installation touch to a world where the walls between have come down and a representation of a baby which also represents a basic human need.
Watching it for the first time (at last), it struck us that it may have been influenced by Before The Rain, a 1994 Macedonian movie, which TLT saw around then. In terms of its experimentation with time, the stage directions about rain and the invasive violence from Bosnia spreading to London.
For TLT was around and conscious in 1995 - except that Sarah Kane's Blasted never entered her radar. Romans In Britain, yes, after Mary Whitehouse's private prosecution of director Michael Bogdanov, but not Blasted.
That only happened when, some years later, a newsdesk faxed over a news cutting of a death in a hospital and sent TLT to the opening of an inquest at Southwark Coroner's Court. Even then TLT had never read or seen any of her plays. TLT was more disturbed about the evidence briefly outlined at the opening.
How a seemingly successful university-educated young woman, surrounded by so many people apparently feeding off her life and work, hoarded prescription pills and finally ended her life in a hospital in a manner more reminiscent of jail block suicides left extraordinarily with the facilities to kill themselves
So TLT had also missed Jeremy Paxman's sunflower tie and sarky summary on Newsnight alongside a strange interview with a guarded Royal Court Theatre Artistic Director Stephen Daldry and a cheerful Daily Mail critic, the late Jack Tinker who surely knew what he was saying when he called her "a girl"?
Enough - it's important to say the dark humour in Blasted still comes through and in some ways the whole play which we saw at The Styx comes from a romantic sensibility where the values of the maternal instinct and nurturing still pierce through the violence. Blasted runs until Saturday March 11 at The Styx, as part of a series of 1990s' plays put on by RIFT and it's a amber/green light from TLT.