01/10/2008 - 04/10/2008
Written by Sarah Kane
Compassion and cruelty strangely collide
Master of Theatre Arts in Directing, final year student Kat Thomas directs Sarah Kane’s profound and disturbing play Blasted.
The legacy of Kane’s first play hardly needs explanation. In London, on January 18 1995, in the intensified small space of the Royal Court Theatre upstairs, 65 people witnessed what some term the “rebirth of British theatre.” Like its title, Kane’s play demonstrated a stylistic rupture into the low-key naturalism which had dominated mid 90s British theatre.
Racist, foul mouthed journalist Ian (Patrick Davies (Ground)) and a much younger girl, Cate (final year acting student Martine Gray), enter a fancy hotel room in Leeds. Halfway through, a soldier (Andrew McKenzie) enters the hotel. Without shifting location, we seem to be in the middle of a genocide.
Blasted is a play loaded with controversy – the tabloid outrage, its supposed ‘catalogue of atrocities’. So why do it? Director Kat Thomas: “Blasted is a bold piece that uses literal force to challenge the way we view the world. Yes, it is a text that speaks to civil war, sexual violence, theatrical conventions, but it does offer another way of seeing that emerges from this suffering and nothingness. I find it beautifully optimistic in its sombre form”. Blasted affirms love and hope in the darkest moments of human existence.
Blasted is also a compelling theatrical experience – this production takes place in the basement space at Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School, and is designed by final year design student Tureiti Nelson, who has created a design which speaks to both the horror and beauty of the text. This graduation production of Kane’s ‘experiential’ text is sure to make the audience feel the extreme discomfort and distress of the characters.
Contains content that will offend
When: Wed 1 – Sat 4 October 2008, 8:30pm
Where: Basement Theatre, Te Whaea National Dance & Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Road, Newtown
Price: $15 / $10
Bookings: 04 381 9253 (automated line)
Design by Tureiti Nelson
Lighting by Paul Tozer
Sound by Samantha Mott
Review by John Smythe 02nd Oct 2008
Set in a flash hotel room, Sarah Kane’s first play, Blasted (1995) starts with a loveless relationship between a man and woman, descends into the utter human degradation of war – involving attitudes and actions that echo and build (if that’s the word) on the more infamous atrocities of Greek, Elizabethan and Jacobean tragedy – and ends with a small act of kindness involving a sausage.
Director Kat Thomas, in her programme note, writes, "I find Blasted beautifully optimistic in its sombre form" and other commentators have seen themes of redemptive love amid the psychological and physical carnage. I see no such thing in this play. Its clear moral message is that small acts of abuse beget bigger ones until all is lost. There is no redemption in a sausage.
Ian Jones (Patrick Davies) is a pistol-packing journalist who lives in ignorance-based fear of things he doesn’t understand: dark-skinned people, homosexuals, death … and women. Cate (Martine Gray), quite a bit younger than Ian, has come to the hotel with him for the night because, it seems, she is more attracted to the apparent experience of luxury than to him.
The challenge, met with alacrity by Thomas and her team, is to make us believe in them, their actions and their situation. At two hours with no interval, on uncomfortable folding chairs (not to mention that I’d had next to no sleep the night before), my unswerving attention attests to the integrity of this production.
Designer Tureiti Nelson captures an effective essence of luxury with a white covered bed, white tiled floor, white doors and architraves and a golden-lighted chandelier. In the gloom beyond the back wall a sense of war-torn destruction lurks. What a shame the detail of a peephole in the door hadn’t been attended to: such small details can hijack the whole effect.
Paul Tozer’s naturalistic then expressionistic lighting design is as excellent for the prevailing moods as for the sudden shock and awe of a mortar attack – the highlight (if that’s the word) of Samantha Mott’s powerful sound design, where rain tends to follow the explosive violence.
The rain becomes real and strangely soothing … The whole staging of the attack and the upheaval it causes is brilliant (if that’s… etc) and a testament to a well aligned crew.
From the moment she stands in the doorway agog at the gorgeous room Martine Gray draws us into her world by being Cate in real time. Likewise the way she looks out the window, in our direction, paints a vivid picture of how high they are in this metropolis. Yet she observes pain and horror with an objective detachment that speaks volumes about her dislocation from reality, or from any sense that she has any pre-emptive power.
Whether she is innocent and vulnerable, insistent on what she does and doesn’t want, or bitter and vengeful at having been betrayed, Gray’s Cate is totally credible. Her sudden blackouts (petit mal?) followed by manic laughter are unnerving. And her accent – Leeds, I think – is good and consistent.
Patrick Davies’ attempt at a Welsh accent is like nothing I’ve heard before but at least it’s reasonably consistent within itself. His embodiment of the fearfully loathsome Ian – scared of death yet smoking and drinking himself to appalling ill health and an early grave; claiming to love Cate yet putting her down as dumb and physically abusing her as well – is also compelling in its gross reality. His attacks of deep-gut pain are almost too much to bear.
Cate, by the way, claims not to love Ian yet succumbs to some warped nurturing instinct; classic co-dependent behaviour. Perversely she seems to gain in dominance over him after he has raped her while his pathetic inadequacy as a man becomes more obvious.
The news story he dictates over the phone is interesting on two counts. First, it involves an atrocious murder in a New Zealand forest, which I take to be an adaptation to bring it closer to home (so we have to gloss over the question of why he would be reporting it from a hotel room in Leeds). And the simple fact of his dictating the punctuation comma in all its fine detail comma has a remarkable alienation effect point.
In the third scene of five, a combat-ready soldier arrives brandishing an assault rifle. He represents the total degradation of humanity, first describing to Ian then – in the fourth scene – actually carrying out appalling atrocities that he lamely justifies as revenge for the murder of his girlfriend.
Andrew McKenzie plays him with an unnervingly relaxed intensity (finding the paradox is the key to Kane). I assume his American accent is another embellishment to connect this to the present, whereas Kane – I think – had hermetically sealed her story in the culture she was part of. (In the lead up to her writing this, Britain was part of the NATO campaign attempting to resolve the genocide-tainted civil war in Bosnia.)
The rhythm and pacing is excellent and whatever process has been used to manifest these characters and their realities works. Anyone wanting to comprehend the Sarah Kane phenomenon should get themselves to this production of Blasted.
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