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Blasted at the Lyric

BLASTED: has not been performed in London for nearly a decade but with Sean Holmes’ production at the Hammersmith Lyric it seems it has finally found a suitable home with a terrific cast to boot. Let’s just hope that this play continues to amass the recognition it rightly deserves.
Blasted at the Lyric
By Sarah Kane With Danny Webb, Lydia Wilson and Aidan Kelly Directed by Sean Holmes At the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith Sarah Kane’s debut play Blasted represents a turning point in contemporary British theatre. Following its press night at the Royal Court Theatre in 1995, it was utterly ransacked by critics who took personal offence at its graphic obscenity and ostensible lack of moral purpose. No doubt by the time the time this review is out the newspapers will be full of retrospective critiques of that 1995 production, such as Jack Tinker’s article for The Daily Mail (he was ‘utterly and entirely disgusted’) or more famously, Michael Billngton’s review which left him ‘wondering how such naive tosh managed to scrape by the Royal Court’s normally judicious play-selection committee.’ The important thing is that it did and, ironically, perhaps for the same reason Billington initially cited as its major flaw: a lack of clarity surrounding ‘external realities’. I would argue that it is precisely the deconstruction of reality’s scaffolding that has enabled Blasted’s resuscitation: it is as timeless as the atrocities it contains and a play which manages to be absurd, yet naturalistic, brutal but tender, forceful and at the same time resigned. However, what viewers of its 2010 production at the Hammersmith Lyric will consider is whether reproductions of Blasted rest on its former notoriety (and Kane’s suicide at the age of 28) or if its inherent power and illimitability lends itself to successful revivals. Based on tonight’s press performance it was clearly a case of the latter (although naturally the website trailers make use of the existing controversy to attract audiences). The play opens in an expensive hotel room in Leeds (“so expensive it could be anywhere in the world”) and Paul Wills’ set design remains true to the script. The clinical invincibility of the room initially distinguishes the internal and external worlds, which are in constant conflict. Ian is played to perfection by Danny Webb, almost likeable in Scene One before his pathetic attempts to seduce Cate take a sinister turn. What impresses most about Webb’s performance is the way his character progresses throughout the play, gradually becoming more spiteful and misogynistic until his complete reduction in Scene Three. Ian dictating his story about the serial killer into the telephone saw Webb adapting the character from the script impeccably; a hack journalist who attempts to mask his fragility with male bravado until the very end. This is where Sean Holmes’ directorial prowess really shows. Blasted is a hard play even to read because it is difficult to imagine how these characters could react to each other, credibly, in their given circumstances – especially once the audience becomes aware that the hotel room has become a warzone. This production should be noted for Holmes’ ability to make these talented actors play difficult parts so well and for making the play genuinely funny in the right places. Aidan Kelly’s entrance as the Soldier was a deftly executed example of this. Kelly managed to create an impression of massiveness and brutality throughout the performance, giving the audience a taste of what is going on outside, restricted from their vision and all the more powerful for doing so because it relies on their imagination. Lydia Wilson’s portrayal of Cate was extremely good – her stress is believable and she retains the naivety of Kane’s script, but her talent really shows when she expresses her anger at Ian’s behaviour. The scene where she has Ian at gunpoint, for instance, was particularly impressive as was her stoic resilience in the final glimpses before the curtain. Blasted has not been performed in London for nearly a decade but with Sean Holmes’ production at the Hammersmith Lyric it seems it has finally found a suitable home with a terrific cast to boot. Let’s just hope that this play continues to amass the recognition it rightly deserves. Bookings until 20th November http://www.lyric.co.uk/whats-on/production/blasted/>

Duncan Robertson

Friday 29 October, 2010

About the author

Duncan Robertson holds an MA in Postcolonial Literature from the University of Leeds and has written for various publications on a wide range of topics, with a particular interest in music and theatre