BLAST ME IF YOU WANT (BUT I DON’T UNDERSTAND SARAH KANE…)

Yesterday four students offered us Scene 1 and Scene 2 of Sarah Kane’s Blasted, with a courage and enthusiasm far beyond my expectations. Josep and Helena, Julia and Isabella played Ian and Cate, with Julia doubling as the Soldier. To begin with, in Scene 1 we had a young couple (happy, I assume!) playing the alienated couple in the play, which added a strange tension –the class started giggling but grew silent as the scene progressed and jaded Ian’s aggressiveness towards naive Cate was made visible. In Scene 2, the necessary cross-gendering (there are so few men in class…) made it quite clear that Ian’s power over Cate and the Soldier’s over him can be disconnected from their gender. In the end, we agreed, despite common sense feminist belief, what matters more is who becomes a victim and who holds power, regardless of gender.

If you’re familiar with Blasted, you know that it has plenty of sex and violence (the worst physical violence erupts in Scene 3, in which the Soldier rapes Ian and swallows his eyes… later Ian eats a baby who dies on stage). Logically, the taboos operating in the classroom are much more restrictive than the taboos at work on the professional stage. The students decided to leave Kane’s directions regarding touching and hurting to a narrator, a wise decision which didn’t really detract from the impression of cruelty Kane wanted to generate. We wondered at how actors manage to play scenes like Kane’s and what kind of psychological make up they need not to be affected by all this…

Ensuing class discussion was short but very lively with three main reactions: downright dislike of the play (“We don’t have to like every play, do we?”), a staunch defence of its moral message (“Everyone is a victim, and anyone can be”) and, third, denial that the play means much (“This has no message, it’s just written for shocks”). The student who disliked the play claimed that it was actually quite easy to write something like Blasted but far more difficult to write something with substance (as an example, she quoted Daniel MacIvor’s In on it). I myself think that Blasted belongs to the particular 1990s moment that Aleks Sierz portrays so beautifully in his very personal essay In-yer-face Theatre (2001, see https://www.inyerface-theatre.com/main.html). I am not claiming Kane’s play is dated, proof of this was that it worked well in the classroom. My impression is, rather, than in-yer-face theatre is a bit childish, the adult equivalent of the young child shocking the adults by using swearwords. That was part of the mood of the 1990s: Tarantino is a main referent and so is Trainspotting.

18 years after the scandal raised by Blasted the shock value of in-yer-face theatre has somehow faded, maybe the pendulum is swinging. We all agreed that if Blasted were stage in Barcelona we’d see it –though more out of intellectual curiosity than for pleasure, intellectual or otherwise. Here is a Catch 22 situation, for if I claim that I don’t enjoy plays like Blasted, I’ll sound conservative and if I claim that I enjoy them I may sound too fond of gratuitous violence… Blast me if you know how to solve this dilemma!!

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