Blasted

Sarah Kane

Lyric Hammersmith

(2010)

Review by Philip Fisher

It is easy to understand why, at first sight, Blasted repulsed the critics and also any theatregoers that found themselves at the Royal Court when it opened fifteen years ago. This was In-Yer-Face Theatre raw and pure.

However, on a second or subsequent viewing, when one can get past the shock of its horrific depiction of society in turmoil, the play turns out to be not only a poetic drama but also a highly moral one.

This vision has much to do with an excellent revival by Sean Holmes, supremely aided by leading actor Danny Webb.

In essence, it follows the entry into living hell by the epitome of anti-political correctness, a tabloid journalist called Ian. This then is seen to be the start of his journey through each of hell's seven rings until he reaches a low point, almost impossible to imagine, let alone portray on stage, before receiving absolution at the hands of his victim.

In the early scenes, it is hard to imagine what might be coming. Ian, who claims to moonlight as a Government-sponsored murderer, invites a girl to his Leeds hotel room.

He is middle-aged and dying from his own excesses, as a combination of booze and fags begin to take their toll. His guest Cate is a sweet innocent, a teenager with a mental age even lower than her physical one.

While Ian postures, tries to charm and threatens, Lydia Wilson's suitably naive Cate seeks a little affection but all that she gets is raped and assaulted.

The next morning though, we discover that this Leeds is in the middle of the kind of war zone more immediately associated with the former Yugoslavia or parts of Central Africa.

Ian's morning after hangover is interrupted by the arrival of an Irish soldier twice his size brandishing an automatic rifle and played by Aidan Kelly.

Suddenly, the boot is on the other foot and Ian begins a descent into unutterable and, for some, unwatchable degradation that makes King Lear, with which this play has strong parallels, seem like a light comedy.

By the end though, those that have made it through the horrors are rewarded by a scene of catharsis worthy of the Greeks, made special not only by Webb's acting but also some incredible lighting effects designed by Paule Constable.

Blasted presents a terrifying vision of the human condition and will undoubtedly shock viewers. However, one of the main reasons is because news stories regularly tell us that life really is like that in some parts of the world.

Sarah Kane is not to everybody's taste but those that can stomach it should go and see Sean Holmes' production of what might just be recognised in future as one of the great works of the late 20th Century.