Having read Sarah Kane’s Blasted when I was a teenager and finding myself gripped by the literal explosion of dialogue and action you could considering it a crime that until this week I had never seen a performance of it. However Kane’s work is no easy beast to tame for the stage, and with few revivals in large theatres and many ameature led versions passing by with little notice, it is great to have the Lyric Hammersmith tackle what is considered the modern classic of our time. Sarah Kane’s Blasted directed by the Lyric’s Artistic Director, Sean Holmes in one of the biggest revivals of Kane’s work in recent years – along with my own anticipation to see the show, a lot was riding on a good outcome. Thankfully I was not disappointed.
I had always imagined that Blasted would be a brutal play to stage, what with masturbation, rape, cannibalism and a bomb explosion that tears the set apart to contend with. Yet Holmes manages to produce a rather subtle, silently shocking and provacative – even funny Blasted – not what I could ever envisaged on my reading of the play. It works. Kane’s text is explored tentatively by Holmes so that the real explosive outbursts and horror that Kane intended creep up on you and leave you somewhat winded afterward.
It’s not often I leave a performance and not give a moments thought to the actors and their acting, yet little can be said for the cast – not because they are in any manner poor, but rather perfectly cast. Lydia Wilson as Cate, the young girl whose apparent innocence in her youth is a delight to watch. Wilson’s hysterical laughter that echos from her tiny frame of a body is pitched just at the right moments that give her an edge of instability as Cate.
Danny Webb as the alcoholic and somewhat perverted Ian dominates the first half of Blasted, yet his crippling pleas of help and need for human contact later in the play touches a tender desperation. You don’t feel sorry or emotionally connected to Ian, nor do you take pleasure in his torment – you observe from afar, distanced and muted. The arrival of Aidan Kelly as the Solider begins the descent of Blasted into the non-linear and explosive reckoning it is known for. Kelly is brutal in his deliverance as the Solider punishing Ian as a character. His war-tales of fucking men and killing innocent civilians cuts through the auditoriums silence. Kelly is a chilling and cold-hearted Solider, but one that Kane would have been proud of.
As a whole, Holmes’ Blasted is delivered with a chilling edge. The silence of the production seems to become a whole new character that puts the most amount of weight and tension upon it’s audience. Even during the brutal rape of Ian by the Solider the silence aside from the creaking of the bed echoed from the stage. There are long pauses that carry a Pintersque feel to them – speaking volumes in the silence. Ultimately Holmes touches on the tender actions and motivations of the characters, but seeing Webb in the closing moments of the show lit by a stark beam of light as he masturbates, shits, eats a baby, and crawls into bowels of the staging is breathtaking. Blasted shows the breakdown of character and power, leaving Ian’s closing ‘Thank You’ desolate and painful to hear.
The team of creatives behind Blasted could not have done a better job to give the explosive tearing open of narrative from luxury hotel room to an abyss of war-torn darkness. Paul Wills design is at once intimate in the hotel setting, to a breathtaking void of the aftermath of an explosion. With steel girders extending the full height of the Lyric’s stage, and resembling religious crosses hanging in the dark, it sets the second half of Blasted in a void punctuated by the action and dialogue that follows. Paule Constable’s lighting adds to the flawless design – with an open pool of stark light somewhere in the heavens of the theatre the action beneath it is chilling.
Blasted could have gone in many different directions for me. I was worried that my associations with Kane’s work and her history – her ‘tragic death – that is too often referred too would cloud the production for me. What I wasn’t expecting was a real subtlety to the text and action that actually brought about a more devastating impact for me. Blasted is a classic, and the Lyric have done well to give it the attention and space it justly deserves.
My advice: Go, see it, witness it, and enter a dark side of the human psyche that you should be grateful you don’t get to explore often.
Blasted is playing at the Lyric Hammersmith theatre until 20th November. Book tickets via the Lyrics website here.