Review: Blasted

Violence is violence, is violence, as Kane reminds us

By Leeor Adar

When I think of Sarah Kane I imagine a rawness of writing, and Blasted is as brutish and raw as it gets. There is no line between the private violence of the domestic and the intrusion of war upon private citizens. Blasted drags us in not with string but with rope, and we are gripped in the hideousness of a reality we want to forget.

Anne-Louise Sarks directs her cast through treacherous material, and each rises to the occasion, despite how confronting it would be to wade through the play’s material on a daily basis.

Blasted begins in such banality. A woman (Eloise Mignon) and man (David Woods) with an obvious power imbalance, share a hotel room for a night. We are on edge, because the man plays with his gun like it’s an extension of his ego. The woman, a former lover we eventually learn, is subjected to his sexual, emotional and physical violence. It’s all shrouded in the banter of their conversation, all strangely accepted by the audience as the currency of their relationship, until we are rudely awoken to the scene of war as a soldier (Fayssal Bazzi) urges his way into their private space.

This production is hard to watch, and it is hard to listen to. The audience has no doubt heard of the atrocities of war and of the extremities of domestic violence, but how many transgressions do we forgive in our every day lives – what is the difference between a lover raping his partner and the stranger taking the same liberty as part of the “spoils” of war? Violence is violence, is violence, as Kane reminds us. While it was not received well by critics upon its first foray into the London theatre scene in 1995, this production has gathered momentum in its relevance like never before. Timely, is what I would call this production for the Malthouse Theatre.

Marg Horwell’s stagecraft and choice of costuming is on point; the cleanliness of the hotel and its beige colours contrasts wonderfully with what’s to come. The space gradually turns from the rubble of domestic violence to the thunderous destruction of the entire space. It’s a titanic feat to turn a hotel room into a rung of hell in under a minute, but the production team smash it. My only criticism is the use of the screen above the stage to capture the small intimacies of the play. It was an unexpected and unnecessary touch. There was enough on stage to convey the power and cruelty of the work without having to contrast it with rotting petals.

Woods’ performance is strong and sustained. As he journeys through the terrain of this play, we feel fear, disgust and ultimately pity for his character. Mignon’s woman is mercurial, childlike and random, which contrasts well with the intensity of the men she shares the stage with. Bazzi’s soldier is relatable and poignant, perhaps more relatable than the others as he is able to convey reason within the madness of the play’s world, despite being a terrifying presence.

The soldier goads the journalist, questioning whether he understands what it is to commit atrocities, but on some level, they are both brutes made from the fibres of their society and circumstance. How did we become so indifferent to violence? I find it to be the core of what Kane raises in Blasted, and a question I continue to ask myself after leaving the theatre.

Kane has succeeded.

Written by Sarah Kane. Directed by Anne-Louise Sarks. Performed by Fayssal Bazzi, Eloise Mignon and David Woods. Set and costume by Marg Horwell and lighting by Paul Jackson. Photograph by Pia Johnson.

Blasted is being performed at Malthouse Theatre until 16 September.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9685 5111.