Blasted (Malthouse) – theatre review

Blasted is a remarkably insightful and deeply traumatising work from British playwright Sarah Kane, first performed in 1995.

Ian (David Woods) is a broken, middle-aged journalist. He’s brought a much younger woman, Cate (Eloise Mignon) – who he’s known for some time – to an upmarket hotel room. But when she resists his advances, he takes matters into his own hands. Overlaying the violence which ensues is the equally horrendous horror of war; manifested as a merciless soldier (Fayssal Bazzi).

Woods trawls the depths to breathe life into the depraved journo, who has well and truly lost his way. As soon as he opens his mouth you loathe him … and, of course, that’s the point. He professes his love for Cate. But his violent actions and the racist, misogynistic, homophobic bile he sprouts suggest the complete opposite.

Mignon inhabits Cate with a mixture of naïveté and fragility. Cate cares for – and detests – Ian. While she knows he’s bad news, she’s nonetheless drawn to him. Bazzi is the personification of pure evil. The character is so traumatised by what he’s seen and done in combat that nothing is too sick any more. His barbarity knows no bounds. He speaks openly about it; like a badge of honour. Underneath is deep self-loathing, but he’s well past the point of caring.

The staging (the set and costume designer is Marg Horwell) is a work of genius, save for a single large video screen, revealing close-ups. That could have been done away with altogether without in any way affecting the impact of the play. As it was, its positioning above the hotel room, where all the action was set, didn’t work. It was far too high for those in the seats close to the stage, such that one barely glanced at it.

But let me focus on the positives. The hotel room itself serves the purpose well. But it’s what happens at the midway point of the play, when the atrocities of war are introduced, that sees the staging elevated to rarefied air. The room becomes a battleground within a battleground. I hesitate to say any more without destroying the element of surprise.

Clearly such strong and unrelenting material will be too much for some. As social commentary, I regard it as shedding an important light on critical issues. All associated with Blasted have done a superb job with Kane’s intensely affecting prose. Directed by Anne-Louise Sarks, Blasted is at the Merlyn Theatre at Malthouse Theatre until 16 September 2018.

Alex First


Other reviews you might enjoy: