Saturday, November 18, 2006

Theatre Review : Zerbombt (Blasted) by Sarah Kane - Schaubuene am Lehniner Platz, Berlin - Barbican (dir Thomas Ostermeier 8/11/06)

Why does one go to the Theatre? Is it to be entertained? Is it to appreciate the beauty of the language, the acting and the staging? Is it to be thrilled by the tightness of the plot or the coups de theatre that the director offers us? Or is it to get a unique insight into the nature of the human condition?

One thing is for sure - a Sarah Kane play is not a feel-good experience. In the dystopian vision of the near future that is Blasted, Ian, a man of no redeeming qualities, meets Cate, his former girlfriend, in a Leeds hotel room. Ian is dying, but is after only one thing. He rapes the girl. Soldiers are invading the city, and Cate escapes just before one bursts into the Hotel room. The room however is destroyed in a huge explosion (magnificently done), but Ian and the soldier survive. The soldier rapes Ian, then, in a terrible parody of the binding of Gloucester, sucks out his eyes and chews them. Then the soldier shoots himself, leaving Ian to starve. Cate returns with a dead baby, and then leaves to prostitute herself with the soldiers in order to get some provisions - in desperation, Ian eats the flesh of the baby. Cate returns, with some food and a bottle of Gin. The play ends as she cradles his sightless head in her arms an feeds him drops of gin, and he says "Thank you".

This nightmare vision is unredeemed by anything except for the occasional flash of black humour, the language at all times harsh, stark and brutal. Yet it works powerfully as theatre - one's initial sympathy for Cate is finally shared with the contemptible Ian for all the horrors that he must endure, and even the soldier, whose grossness and barbarity is all-encompassing, has himself in turn lost a woman he loved to a brutal murder. But it is a harsh, unremitting vision.

This was an excellent production using a revolving stage to signify the passage of time, and to offer different perspectives on the hotel room. The totally unexpected bomb explosion is a transforming moment, the hotel furniture rising ceilingward, debris falling to the stage in a torrent of light and sound. Apocalyptic, spectacular, but still true to the bleak vision of the play.

The acting was magnificent throughout. Katharina Schuettler as Cate managed to convey both vulnerability and toughness. She will survive. Ulrich Muehe as Ian managed to convey the transformation from a deeply offensive, unattractive character, to one who will engage our sympathies before the end. And the massive, immovable Thomas Thieme as the Soldier simply oozed amoral brutality.

It is difficult to describe the pleasure one gets from watching such an uncompromising piece of work. Appreciation of fine acting and staging for sure. Yet throughout the bleakness there is always a tiny ray of hope that, in some way, the characters may find peace. Maybe not for long, maybe in death - but in Ian's final acknowledgement of Cate as he says "Thank you" for the gin he has discovered a part of his humanity which had previously been missing and thus achieves some form of redemption.

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