For whatever reasons, Sarah Kane's
explosive début play was the only one of her works that I had
neither read nor seen prior to this visit of Thomas Ostermeier's Berlin
Schaubühne revival. I am glad to have made its acquaintance in
this form: a disciplined, unsensationalised staging which lets both the
horror and the poetry of Kane's vision sing their competing strains.
Poetry? Yes, for despite the events depicted – including rape in
various flavours, the eating of living eyeballs and a dead baby – and
the blunt language in which the three characters speak, there is a
perceptible striving in their dealings with each other, and after two
uninterrupted hours of this atrocity, the mere offering of a bottle of
tequila can embody an amazing degree of spiritual grace.
Jan Pappelbaum's set is at once opulent (I've never seen a Leeds hotel
room, in which the play is supposedly set, remotely as luxurious) and
stark, dressed entirely in monochrome, which increases the sense of
devastation when lit for much of the second half in the whitest of
light. This visual impact helps overcome an aural deficit: I have
enough German to understand Nils Tabert's unadorned translation without
problems, but from barely halfway back in the Barbican auditorium, I
could barely hear the actors, and perforce had to rely on the English
surtitles. I understand the refusal to exaggerate words and gestures
beyond the scale of their dramatic environment, but in some cases it
cripples the communal event that is what theatre is about.
Kane's original draft had consisted only of violent, paranoid reporter
Ian's manipulation and abuse of the much younger, more simple-minded
Cate. She then expanded the piece as a response to reports at the time
from the former Yugoslavia; now, a soldier bursts in from the civil war
outside the hotel window, and similarly brutalises Ian whilst at the
same time trying in his maddened way to make a personal connection.
Ostermeier's production makes clear the correspondence between the
private and the "public" violence. And the passage of a bare decade has
shown that Kane's description of Kafka as "a writer who everyone
thought was purely imaginative, but in retrospect his works look like
realism" applies equally to her. The world of Blasted
is now indisputably our
world: when Cate turns on the TV, there is no need to use a prepared
montage of atrocity reports – the stories we hear are genuinely those
of today. Were Kane still alive, she would assuredly not view her
prescience with pride.
Written for the Financial Times.