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theatre review: blasted

State Theatre Company of South Australia’s tag line for this play is “the play that hit theatre like a sledgehammer”. Upon viewing Sarah Kane’s Blasted, you can understand why. It’s a play that should come with trigger warnings, its setting in the (relatively) intimate Space Theatre forcing its already controversial content into your face. The effects of this content are undoubtedly greater if they are not known – so be warned that this review will contain many spoilers, and possibly some triggers.

Blasted starts out like an ordinary drama, with Ian (Patrick Graham) bringing Cate (Anni Lindner) to a hotel room for a night. Their relationship is clearly long and complex, with their past history alluded to throughout their dialogue. Cate is a childlike young woman; she curls into a ball and sucks her thumb when things become too much for her. Ian is older and brusquer, a heavy drinker and an almost compulsive swearer. Their relationship is unbalanced: Cate expresses her worry for Ian’s mental and physical state; Ian tells her he loves her, and later rapes her. He is larger, and easily able to overpower her.

The play progresses from a fascinating depiction of a highly unusual and abusive relationship to a story of war and its atrocities. A knock on the room’s door heralds the arrival of the Soldier (Mark Saturno), an Eastern European man bringing with him hideous tales of the effects of war on himself and his loved ones. With the declaration of “our town now”, the Soldier’s entrance brings with it the sound of an explosion and the hotel room is blasted apart as the world outside the room becomes torn apart by war.

The themes of abuse – be it sexual, physical or emotional – continue throughout the play. Ian suffers various atrocities at the hands of the Soldier, a man evidently consumed and destroyed by fighting. Cate manages to escape the room only to be further subjected to abuse by the people in the world outside the room. The cast is strong and all give commendable performances. Wendy Todd’s fantastic set utilises levels to enable great use of the space, as well as highlighting the power relations displayed.

For many, the most confronting aspect of the production will be the portrayal of rape. I found the first attempted rape to be startling. Lindner’s background in physical theatre enables her efforts to escape from Ian’s clutch to be so convincing that, coupled with her pleas and his commands, the scene becomes altogether too realistic. However, it was interesting and almost reassuring to see a normally taboo subject portrayed realistically in live theatre. Perhaps rape as an action is depicted or implied altogether too often throughout the production, but its presence – however challenging – is far from arbitrary.

The initial exploration of Ian and Cate’s relationship was compelling and interesting, and one of the strongest portions of the play, plot-wise. The latter half of the production comprises both longer scenes and a series of vignettes, depicting the Soldier’s treatment of Ian, Ian’s confinement to the room and Cate’s eventual return from the outside world.

What was most troubling about these events were their explanations. When the Soldier enters the room, Cate seems to simply disappear; supposedly she climbs through a window to escape, but her exit goes unnoticed and creates unnecessary confusion. The soldier demands to see Ian’s passport even though Ian seems to be in his home country of England. Ian confesses his secret life as a killer to Cate, never to mention it again; this fact is not used against him by the Soldier. The soldier lies dead on the floor for a large portion of the play; the blood which signifies his suicide cannot be seen from my viewpoint, causing me to wonder if he was just a heavy sleeper. These things may seem petty and inconsequential, but when they are added together they create a great deal of confusion as to the events of the play. Some problems seem to be embedded in the script; some could have been solved by director Netta Yashchin.

Blasted is a famous play and Kane a famous playwright, and there are many moments when it is clear why this is so, especially in the dialogue. It is not a play for the faint hearted. However, it was not the play’s supposed obscenities which marred the production; much of the play just didn’t add up. There are many parallels to be drawn between domestic violence, war and rape culture, and these are points worthy of discussion. I found these ideas to be overwhelmed by the confusing plot. Kane expresses many ideas in Blasted. I just wish she had expressed them more clearly.

Blasted plays at the Space Theatre until 13 October. Running time is approximately 90 minutes. Tickets at Bass.

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