Blasted (Sheffield Crucible) – anniversary revival does Sarah Kane's play full justice

Richard Wilson’s production proves ”Blasted” a bona fide classic

Last month, I asked whether Blasted can still shock, 20 years on, now we know what's coming. Richard Wilson's staging, the start of Sheffield's Sarah Kane season, shows that it needn't. It's shocking, yes, but it never actually shocks.

In other words, his Blasted doesn't smack us about. It doesn't jump or assault us, ramming those escalating horrors down our throats. It's cleverer than that; far subtler and insidious. This is a Blasted that holds out a hand, smiles, and walks us off into the darkness. Where shock and awe tactics make us flinch and recoil, Wilson's approach – his success – is to ensure we never once look away. We let ourselves be horrified.

James Cotterill's hotel room is a work of art. The windows that look out onto Leeds suggest a glass box. Its frame nods to celluloid film. Smart move: we're here by choice, after all. We know what's coming and we've signed up. We want to be appalled.

Inside, Wilson gives the action a disjointed, artificial rhythm, of moments not momentum. You can see why those first critics might have mistaken it for crap naturalism or "naïve tosh". Here, it almost feels like choreography or performance art. A girl lies prostrate on the bed, unconscious. A man stands naked. The girl laughs, a maniacal Jack-in-the-box cackle. It's beautiful. Strange. Slow. Wilson lets us – or maybe forces us – to savour every detail: the hollow rattle of empty plastic gin bottles, the lumpen scar on the man's side, the sadness in the young girl's eyes, the pressure needed to keep her hand wrapped around his cock. This is art: horribly beautiful, beautifully horrid.

'Stomach-churning complexity'

Jessica Barden's Cate looks adolescent, well short of 21 as specified in the script. She speaks with a flat metallic monotone – damaged and vulnerable – and shakes her head like a rag doll. Martin Marquez's Ian treats her gently: he doesn't smack her about or jump her, he holds out a hand and lets her acquiesce. She kisses him back. He nudges the boundaries bit by bit by bit. In Leeds too: impossible not to think of Jimmy Saville. Ian's patient and tender, caring even. He buys her breakfast, offers her drink and tells her he loves her – and he's all the more horrifying for that.

This is how power works: it doesn't take or impose, it asks and expects to get. It's pernicious: reliant on an inability to say no – and that's how Wilson remakes this play for 2015. He shows us the play's hierarchy. Cate can no more refuse Ian than Ian can hold off the soldier later on. Whosoever has the gun makes the rules. Mark Stanley's soldier needn't wrestle Ian into position to rape him. He need only ask. There's no point fighting it. That's just the order of things, the way it is. We let ourselves be fucked – and we say thanks afterwards.

Do you miss the explosiveness? Yes, at times, but the trade-off is a stomach-churning complexity that befits the times we live in. Transfixing and appalling, but never so blunt that we push back, Wilson's production proves Blasted a bona fide classic, one that's capable of adapting to the present moment. Fascinating.

Blasted runs at the Sheffield Crucible until 21 February