More pitiful than pornographic, more tender than tendentious, more tragic than traumatic, Sarah Kane’s Blasted has worked its way in the world these past fifteen years as a modern classic, but I’ve never felt the full force of its baleful beauty as strongly as in this tremendous revival by Sean Holmes at the Lyric.
The journalist, Ian, who brings the young girl, Cate, to a luxurious hotel bedroom in Leeds – its greys and spaciousness in Paul Wills’s design suggest the Queen’s – in order to resuscitate a former abusive relationship, finds himself in a war zone after the hotel is blasted away to its rafters.
Cate, who stammers and has black-outs, returns to pity him after he’s been assaulted by the soldier who barged into the room and had his eyes bitten out. He starts to feast on a dead baby Cate has rescued. These last scenes, in Paule Constable’s lighting, look like Goya’s black paintings.
Nothing is more horrific than scenes in Shakespeare, Bond or Seneca, or on the international news every day. But Kane’s writing is also rooted in the realities of her characters: Ian the fascist alcoholic dying of agony anyway; vegetarian, football-loving Cate anxious to find closure; the soldier who has supped on the obscenities of war.
Holmes gives the play monumentalism without gratuitous exaggeration. The characters seem frozen in silhouette in the blinding morning light. And the performance of Danny Webb as Ian is simply shattering: a Lear-like journey to the abyss with layers of skin ripped away by experience, pitiable but unworthy. He hits exactly the right tone and gains grim laughter as he puts a gun in his mouth and orders Cate: “Don’t stand behind me.”
Lydia Wilson, is heart-breaking, too, as Cate, a damaged, gamine waif of the inner city who roams the wasteland. Aidan Kelly is huge and menacing, grimy with foreign wars, in his shocking interventions. The final two words of this amazing play, as a disembodied head in a grave is fed scraps, are “Thank you.” The body rots, the world disintegrates, humanity survives. Kane echoes Beckett in her tenacious, poetic nihilism.