Here’s the thing – Sarah Kane and Blasted hold an extremely special place in my heart. Reading it for the first time, it was love at first sight, kickstarting what would very loosely be called my writing career. What makes this play so wonderful, and what makes Kane great as a playwright, is the fearlessness. The brutality, the violence, the discomfort, the brash reality – you’ll find all those things in Kane’s work but, somehow, written with a beauty and tenderness. Blasted is a play about the horrors of war, but it’s also about the search for love and companionship in a disenfranchised society. Kane was an enigmatic writer and this is a tremendous play.
With high opinions come equally high expectations, with which I settled myself in at The Other Room. There was only one way this production was going to win me over, and that was by staying true to its core and showing utter fearlessness. After sitting through this three-hander for ninety or so minutes, I can happily say that I was well and truly won over. Kate Wasserberg didn’t pull any punches with her direction, really getting the most from her cast and crew. The set design and lighting was very good, the original score from Nick Gill was fantastic and, given the restraints of the space, the special effects were handled very well. Gill, in particular, plays a pivotal role in the success of the performance. The score, which riffs on Hollywood horrors from the eighties, adds just the right layer of dread.
But where Wasserberg really excels is the performances she gets from her three actors. What made Blasted so controversial on its debut back in the nineties was the horror. A play littered with mental, physical and sexual violence is difficult enough for an audience, but we can sometimes forget that it’s probably as challenging for the cast. Christian Patterson (Ian), Louise Collins (Kate) and Simon Nehan (The Soldier) really push themselves to the limits that their characters require, and serious praise needs to go to them for that. As much as I loved the performance, I don’t think it’s something I could watch every day. How they’re performing in it is beyond me, and I admire them for it.
The Other Room’s stage is quite small, and therefore almost perfect for a play like Blasted. However, I do wish that the audience was even closer to the action, to really enhance the voyeuristic and claustrophobic nature of the play. But just as it was, the production was a visceral delight, and I left the auditorium feeling like I’d gone through some sort of shared trauma. It’s a performance that stays with you, and that’s a testament to all the different pieces of the puzzle.
The run is coming to an end, so you probably won’t get a chance to see Blasted now, if you’re in Cardiff. But if this is anything to go by, The Other Room is a theatre to keep your eye on. This was the first in their Life In Close-Up season, and I definitely recommend you book a ticket for their next show. I know I will.