Production photo by Pallasca Photography
Those who saw The Other Room’s production of Sarah Kane’s Blasted might not understand this:
I saw it twice.
You can read my initial review here https://theyoungcritics.wordpress.com/2015/02/21/review-of-the-other-rooms-production-of-sarah-kanes-blasted/
Invited to see it again, I’m tasked with talking about its development. I’m currently reading Pat Barker’s Regeneration which explores our ability to squirrel away traumatic and unpleasant experiences to a store of bad nuts never to be touched again. Could this be a bad nut?
Last time I sat in the back row. This time, the second, almost the same level as the cast. This alone gives me a very different perspective. The white curtains along the right wall remind me of the fatal veil in Harry Potter, which you only pass through once. Thankfully there wasn’t a fire, as these curtains cover the fire escape.
There are more voices in composer Nick Gill’s soundtrack. I wonder if this is true; if I’m noticing more; or if I’ve finally cracked.
Ian’s first line “I’ve shat in better places than this” elicits no laughter. Of course, between two shows there are many subtle differences in the delivery of lines and their reception. But for one of my most intimate theatrical experiences to date, I held Ian’s terrified gaze as he was raped by the Soldier. I felt helpless, but comforted myself with “It’s only theatre!”
A reminder of this came after the blast. A spotlight blinds the audience, masking the back-wall as it falls away, revealing a great big hole strewn with tattered painting and remnants of the bathroom behind. There is silence. Smoke fills the room. Considering The Other Room is the size of a moderate lounge, they tackled this coup de theatre with gusto. However, just before I get too carried away, someone – in full view – carries a large rectangular piece of set out the back. If anything, this is endearing. A small breath before being plunged back into the cold depths of Kane.
While the set is adjusted – an unwritten scene played out in the shadows – Nick Gill’s soundscape takes over again. With more rainwater than I recall, I nod along and smile. This is beautiful! I almost don’t want the lights to rise.
This is the difference in my viewings. The first was a blanket experience. I was smothered in dread, violence and occasionally pricked with a rogue duck feather of hope. This time, everything is a little clearer and more distinct.
Perhaps this is helped by the audience. Previously, I sat amongst other critics and The Other Room associates who presumably had some idea of what was in store (a bad nut). Now, I can see my own expression reflected, heightened in the gurns of others; hands cover eyes and mouths; a woman retches beside me. Soon, she is uncontrollably sobbing. She thanks her friend for comforting her while on stage a desperate Ian thanks Cate – what symmetry!
The show also appears to have taken its toll on the actors. At the end Ian is shown in various acts of depravity and degradation. Between these, I watch actor Christian Patterson pick himself up in the darkness, and move into position for the next. He looks to have aged.
The cast have since pinned down even more nuances in the text. I made further connections and felt the subtext breathing down my neck. It was the first show I have initiated applause at: I wanted to free the actors.
Shortly after, those in the audience who haven’t wandered off into the night are invited for a post-show talk with the aforementioned Simon Kane. I imagined him to be sharp-featured and brooding. Not quite what I was expecting, he reminded me of an old school friend. After Blasted, he had me chortling at his casual description of “Ian ‘avin’ a shit, Ian ‘avin’ a nightmare, Ian eatin’ a baby”.
As manager of her estate, it sounds like Simon was initially quite protective over his dead sister’s plays, allowing few companies to take them on. For those he did, he monitored their directorial choices, ensuring “daft decisions like making the Soldier a woman” didn’t happen – I wish I’d asked why he thought that specifically –; often taking an active part in rehearsals. However, as time’s progressed he has relaxed. He realises “they’re plays, not novels. They’ll go through different filters”.
Mentioning Daily Mail theatre critic Jack Tinker’s comment that Blasted is a “disgusting piece of filth”, Helen Perry, Radio Drama Producer at the BBC, asks “How do you explore horrible themes without showing horrible things? Does that make sense?”
Simon replies with a short “No. I don’t know what to say”. However, he soon fires up with another film allusion: he mentions Quentin Tarantino’s films. In Reservoir Dogs “there’s cool music as someone’s having their ear cut off but Blasted doesn’t glamorise violence.”
He talks about their family’s reaction to Sarah Kane’s plays. Their father, a journalist for the Daily Mirror who’s “not far from Ian in some ways”, didn’t like Blasted until it was slated. Their mother can’t reconcile herself with it. They don’t see it any more.
Most interestingly he relates how their granddad, who served in the war, approached Sarah and said “I know how these things have happened. I’m worried how you do”.
Simon says (I couldn’t run from that forever) “She doesn’t make this stuff up”.
Read more about Sarah Kane, Blasted and its inspiration in this article written by playwrights Simon Stephens and Laura Wade http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2010/oct/24/sarah-kane-blasted
Now The Other Room’s first production has ended, roll on the next: Howard Barker’s The Dying of Today will be on 24th March – 11th April. Another British playwright, his plays are acclaimed and produced extensively abroad but have received little recognition here on home turf. Evidently this little theatre wants to produce plays that are in some way unexpected.
More information and tickets for productions can be found on their website http://www.otherroomtheatre.com/en/