Sheffield Theatres opens their Sarah Kane season with Blasted, her first and possibly most controversial play. Ian, a racist, sexist and homophobic middle aged journalist, arrives in a hotel room in Leeds, accompanied by a young girl, Cate, whose youth and naivety is exacerbated by her learning difficulties. As their abusive relationship, characterised by manipulative behaviour and sexual violence, continues; a soldier bursts into the room and, through a series of shocking events, there is a shift in power, control and dependency.
When considering how to describe this play, three words repeatedly surfaced in my mind – uncompromising, unflinching and unapologetic. Themes of control, dominance, sexual violence, manipulation and dependency are thrown at the audience in a shocking and, at times, difficult to watch play, causing you to shift uneasily in your seats and bullishly charging at your boundaries of acceptability. In line with the initial controversy when the play was first performed (where it was described as a “feast of filth”), it still has the power to not only emotionally gut punch the audience, but to be genuinely upsetting and distressing.
In this three-hander, Martin Marquez impressed as bigoted and thoroughly unpleasant Ian, carrying a genuine air of menace and nastiness. Mark Stanley, as the soldier, complimented that performance with a restrained portrayal of a man numb from his own hatred; but I was most affected by Jessica Bardon’s performance as Cate, who carried a haunting look of vacancy which bore straight into you and lingered with you long after leaving the theatre.
Richard Wilson confidently directs with a steady hand, not shying away from extended periods of silence or inconsequential action, but equally not shying away from the visceral and shocking aspects of the play. The set, with its hints of glass surrounding the stage, places you directly in the voyeuristic position of peering in through the hotel room window, watching events unfold; and was both visually impressive and well designed. Crucially, the pivotal moment in the play was accompanied by a jolting and effective transformation of the stage.
Featuring very adult themes, offensive language, scenes of male and female rape, nudity and strong, bloody violence, this is certainly not a play for everyone, and is a heavy, controversial and hard-hitting piece of theatre, which I have no doubt many people will find offensive and distasteful. It is also surreal at times and contains a number of aspects which are particularly uncomfortable to watch, especially in the confined arena of the Crucible Studio.
If you are seeking a challenging piece of heavyweight theatre, then this is a quality and technically impressive production which offers that in abundance. But whether you consider the themes explored and the events of the narrative as suitable subjects for entertainment will very much depend on your individual viewpoint. My suggestion is that you read a little about the play before you decide whether it is for you or not.
Blasted is currently playing at Sheffield Theatres until the 21st February 2015.
The Sarah Kane season includes all of the playwright’s works over the coming months. Full details can be found at http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/blasted-15/