I didn’t enjoy the Lyric Hammersmith’s revival of Blasted – but you’d think I was sick if I said I had, right?
Sarah Kane’s first play features rape (both explicit and implied), bigotry, despair, physical and psychological torture, the sucking-out of a man’s eyes and the cannibalism of a dead baby. What respite there is comes from the darkest possible humour. And Sean Holmes’s production both lingers on the atrocities, and punctuates them with eked-out moments of anticipation-laden near-inaction: held breaths of suffocating duration.
It’s not a play you enjoy; it’s one you endure.
When I arrive home from the theatre, the first thing my housemates ask is “Did you enjoy it?”. Taking in a show is a leisure pursuit, so it isn’t surprising that people judge the experience on how pleasurable it is. So can giving your audience a thoroughly miserable time ever be considered a valid artistic objective?
To mix my media momentarily and paraphrase Sally Sparrow from the Doctor Who episode Blink, sad is happy for deep people. Enjoyment isn’t necessarily every theatregoer’s goal or expectation; or at least, enjoyment can be reached by more than one route – for instance, via discomfort.
Stick with me.
In Blasted, the Soldier (Aidan Kelly) accuses journalist Ian (Danny Webb) of closing his eyes to the lives and hardships of the people he meets. To watch / endure Blasted, and not to turn away when (for instance) the Soldier goes to work on Ian, is to prove oneself better than Ian and the people he represents (you and I). The enjoyment to be had from the play is a kind of solemn, supercilious smugness. “I watched. I didn’t pretend it wasn’t happening. I faced it without flinching.”
But who left the auditorium resolved to pay more attention to foreign wars, or to the people sleeping in shop doorways on your way to work? Not I. I was just relieved it was over. That’s just the thing: it ends. You know it’ll end even if it seems interminable (and those dramaturgical held breaths of Holmes’s play havoc with your perception of time; it’s masterful). You’re allowed to stop facing it down – it lets you win the staring contest in a way real life never will. The victory is fiction, and the smugness is founded on fiction.
Written by Sarah Kane
Crew includes Sean Holmes (director), Stef O’Driscoll (assistant director), Paul Wills (designer), Paule Constable (lighting designer) and Christopher Smutt (sound designer)
Cast includes Aidan Kelly (Soldier), Danny Webb (Ian), Lydia Wilson (Cate)
Need a second opinion? (Or for someone to actually tell you whether the production / performances were any good?)
- Read Michael Billington’s review for The Guardian
- Read Charles Spencer’s review for The Telegraph
- Read Paul Taylor’s review for The Independent
- Read Quentin Letts’s review for the Daily Mail
- Read Aleks Sierz’s review for The Stage
- Read Honour Bayes’s review for Fourth Wall Magazine
- Read Aleks Sierz’s review for The Arts Desk
- Read Michael Coveney’s review for What’s On Stage
- Read Hannah Stratton’s review for The Public Reviews
- Read Jake Orr’s review for A Younger Theatre
- Read the West End Whingers’ review
- Read Matt Trueman’s review on Carousel of Fantasies
- Read Diana Damian’s review on her blog
- Read Ian Foster’s review on There Ought To Be Clowns
- Read Eoghan O’Neill’s review on his eponymous blog
- Read @lurkmoophy’s review on his blog
- Read Dominic Kent’s review on his Theatre Thoughts blog