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Review Round-up: Critics Get Blasted at Lyric

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Sarah Kane’s seminal and brutal play Blasted, which was famously derided by critics when it premiered at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in 1995, has been revived at the Lyric Hammersmith by artistic director Sean Holmes.

Set in a hotel room in Leeds, a middle-aged journalist brings a younger woman back for the night, their abusive relationship heightened by a brutal civil war that forces its way in.

Starring Aidan Kelly (Soldier), Danny Webb (Ian) and Lydia Wilson (Cate), Blasted opened last week (28 October 2010, previews from 22 October) and continues to 20 November 2010.

Michael Coveney

"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 … 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 … 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."

Dominic Maxwell
The Times

”When this play opened in 1995, Sarah Kane’s opaque study in degradation met a chorus of disapproval … Fifteen years later and Kane is on the syllabus, her name a cornerstone of modern European drama as well as forever linked to her suicide, aged 28, in 1999. And if you’ve never seen Blasted, Sean Holmes’ production makes a mighty good case for why you should … ‘That,’ said my neighbour at the end of 100 minutes of harassment and punishment, ‘was the worst play I have ever seen.’ I can’t agree. Yes, it’s often puzzling, sometimes dull. Yet by its horrible but hopeful ending Holmes’ atmospheric, beautifully paced, superbly performed production has given us an unforgettable vision of the terrible price of living without compassion … Danny Webb as Ian, Lydia Wilson as Cate and Aidan Kelly as the Soldier avoid melodrama and sentimentality alike. They convince … You may not like Blasted. But it’s hard to imagine a better chance to see what all the fuss is about.”

Michael Billington

"Since Sarah Kane's 1995 play is more studied than seen, it is shrewd of Sean Holmes to bring it back into the repertory. But, although I have long since repented of my initially dismissive tone and this revival could hardly be better done, I still think the play well short of a masterpiece … I don't doubt the argument that there is a link between private and public violence. I still, however, feel Kane overstates her case through the sheer aggregation of acts of numbing barbarity. Even if it can't reconcile the play's internal division, Holmes' production is utterly compelling: the silences, especially in the early scenes, are charged with emotion and Paule Constable's use of a fierce light to illuminate the eye-gouged Ian's degradation creates a series of chilling Bacon-like images … Maybe it's not a great play but it bears the stigmata of talent that, at first glance, most of us were too obtuse to recognise.”

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

“For those unfamiliar with Kane’s work, this is an astonishingly visceral play in which, for instance, a character has his eyeballs sucked from his skull … Lydia Wilson’s Cate is painfully vulnerable, and Aidan Kelly exudes raw menace as the soldier. But it is Danny Webb as Ian who proves the key. He articulates the character’s posturing unpleasantness, yet as he stares into the abyss - amid apocalyptic scenes that look like something downloaded from the imagination of Francis Bacon - he becomes peculiarly, distressingly sympathetic. Sean Holmes’ production, broodingly lit by Paule Constable, is episodic, rather like a sequence of assaults on the audience. It’s a bit too slow, and not all of Kane’s energy is unleashed. Yet if the savagery of the play’s symbolic mutilations will strike some as too effortfully horrifying, Blasted is undoubtedly a landmark of modern theatre, its moral force at once uncanny and explosive.”

Ian Shuttleworth
Financial Times

"Sean Holmes’ production is comprehensively committed, but is bizarrely a little too reverent to unleash the play’s full harrowing power … As Cate, the teenage girl who accompanies journalist and soi-distant ‘killer’ Ian to his hotel room, Lydia Wilson is less obviously ‘damaged’ than I have seen in previous characterisations … Danny Webb is a first-rate actor, but simply cannot carry off a Yorkshire accent plausibly, nor should he have to: the play is set in Leeds, but Ian is explicitly not local … Holmes seems to have been determined not to impose any particular vision on Kane’s play, which is admirable in theory; however, her work is so ostentatiously anti-naturalistic that it does not just accommodate such visions but actively demands them. For a play that was so shockingly audacious only a few years ago, this feels an oddly timid outing.”

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

“As in the case of Sylvia Plath, it is now hard to separate Kane’s work from her life and premature death. Both have become almost mythic figures. But watching Sean Holmes’ intense, punishing revival of Blasted, the first in almost a decade, it is now clear that this is a play of exceptional power and prescience … There’s no doubt that Blasted was influenced as much by other dramatists as by Kane’s own observation of life. King Lear, Buchner’s Woyzeck and the work of Beckett, Brecht and Bond have all left their mark. But Kane’s insistence that the senseless suffering endured by other parts of the world - she was writing at the time of ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia - might one day come to the streets of Britain, seems less fanciful now. How could it not in the wake of Islamic fundamentalism and the Tube bombers? And Holmes’ powerful, harrowing production, stunningly designed and lit by Paul Wills and Paule Constable, reveals sudden fine moments of humour and compassion in the writing that I missed first time around … you stagger out of theatre feeling both physically shaken and emotionally stirred.”


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